Get excited rugby fans! One of the premier events of Summer 2019, the Women’s Super Series, gets underway this week in San Diego, CA.
The two-and-a-half-week long tournament sees the top five teams in the world square off in a round robin format to establish who is the cream of the crop in the women’s game two years out from World Cup 2021.
The entire Super Series will be LIVE Worldwide on FloRugby
(except New Zealand)
Between New Zealand, England, Canada, France, and the United States, there will be no shortage of talent on display under the sunny skies of Southern California’s beautiful coastline. Here we will preview each team, breakdown what they will need to do to find success, and take a look at a few of the big stars heading into the competition.
The Black Ferns enter the Super Series as both the favorites, and the defending World Cup champions. Following a disappointing 5th place finish at the 2014 World Cup, the Kiwi women have been utterly dominant, compiling a record of 19-2 since.
What Makes New Zealand #1?
It isn’t just the natural ability or fluidity of its players, but also the manner in which the team consistently nails down the fundamentals in all facets of the game. There is no point of weakness with this bunch, and it makes them an extremely tough unit to crack. The set piece is ruthlessly efficient—just watch their three first-half driving maul tries against the USA in November.
Their passing is extremely crisp, allowing the receiver to catch the ball with pace; the defensive line speed is very quick, yet also together and linked up; and their kicking game is as good as any in the world, both from hand and from the tee.
These women have an uncanny ability to be able to build pressure continuously over the course of 80 minutes, and to beat them will require full focus and a very limited number of errors.
Class All Over The Paddock
In the forwards, Philipa Love anchors a strong front row, while the lock pairing of Eloise Blackwell and Charmaine Smith could well be the best in the world.
Captain Les Elder is an unrelenting defensive presence who inspires her teammates with big hits and unwavering leadership. Like the forward pack, the backline, too, is loaded.
Kicking ace Kendra Cocksedge brings a lovely tempo to the game from her halfback spot, and the electric and experienced Selica Winiata does it all from fullback. Chelsea Alley and the young Rhuahei Demant are two excellent ball handlers in the middle of the field that open up space for their teammates around them.
For the Black Ferns, it’s first place or bust in this series.
In all likelihood, it will be the English who pose the greatest threat to the Black Ferns going into this four-game tournament. A highly experienced outfit, the Red Roses will be ready for anything thrown their way, and their recent grand slam at the 2019 Six Nations will give them all the confidence they need as they prepare to take on the best teams in the world.
England sets itself apart from most teams with its physical, uncompromising defense and its skilled yet very powerful attack. Big runs and nifty tip passes get them on the front foot, giving the talented backline players many options once they receive the ball.
It Starts Up Front
It would be extremely difficult to find a front row in international rugby as deep or as good as England’s. Sarah Bern, Hannah Botterman, and Vicki Cornborough are all dynamic and robust players that consistently win the battle of the gain line. Abbie Scott rivals any lock in the world in terms of quality, and Poppy Cleall is an absolute menace on the blindside flank for the Red Roses.
Finishers Out Wide
The backline will be spearheaded by sensational all-around outside center Emily Scarratt and elusive fullback Sarah McKenna. Kelly Smith brings tremendous pace on the wing, and her 24 tries in the Tyrrell's Premier 15s this season demonstrated her nose for the whitewash.
England will be without flyhalf Katy Daley-McLean. It will be difficult to replace the 107-cap leader, who brings a certain calm and composure to the game that few others can. Zoe Harrison has big shoes to fill, but her 13 caps for the Red Roses has prepared her for the level of play she'll see in this competition.
Like New Zealand, England will be gunning for nothing less than a first place finish at the Super Series.
France is a team in which you simply don’t know what you’re gonna get. Will it be the side that took down the Black Ferns 30-27 in 2018? Or will it be the side that was dusted by the Red Roses and handily beaten by Italy in the 2019 Six Nations? The French women hope it’s the former, and they are certainly capable of churning out some great performances.
They'll Need Front-Foot Ball
In its Six Nations bout with England earlier this year, France was overwhelmed by England’s physicality, which led to mistakes and too many turnovers. When they aren’t getting on the front foot, they struggle to unleash some of their world class players like Romane Menager, Safi N’Diaye, and Pauline Bourdon. When these players get space to operate, they can truly make magic happen.
Bourdon Can Be Special
Bourdon was shortlisted for 2018 world player of the year, and it’s no wonder. Her ability to manipulate defenders and exploit the smallest of gaps makes defenders focus extra attention on her at all times. While she is certainly one of the world’s finest number 9s, her best work is done when she plays first-receiver and takes the ball at pace. If she gets in her zone, watch out New Zealand and England.
You cannot count Canada out regardless of where they are on the field. With a love of contact throughout the 15 and an understanding that an offload, even to a player a meter away, shifts the defense, and opens up possibilities.
Power And Speed
The ability to cut through arm tackles allowed Canada to expose England on multiple occasions when the two played in November. England should count themselves lucky that they got away with some shenanigans in the rucks that halted a couple of Canadian attacks.
Still, three tries against England in England shows they can attack. And a two-game sweep of the USA in training games in Guelph in May has to give them confidence.
Aggression Has Its Limits
The Canadian love of the hits can produce some problems if a team is powerful and handles the ball well. You do that you bust through the line, and Canada has had trouble there. The leadership—Amanda Thornborough, Elissa Alarie, and captain Laura Russell—will have to lead on defense.
The Eagles are so nearly there. Despite the lopsided scorelines in the autumn against England and New Zealand, the Americans actually pieced together some really great moments of rugby. As they progressed into their May showdown with the Barbarians, it became clear that the Eagles are starting to put together something they can really build upon moving forward.
Bridges, Johnson Key
The US has players that can more than hold their own against the best of the best that will be featured in San Diego over the next two-and-a-half weeks. Stacey Bridges in the second row has some of the best hands in the game, and her skill and awareness to find support runners for offloads is a major facet in the United States’ ability to get moving forward over the gain line.
This opens up space for their speedy outside backs like Nene Persinger. In the back row, Rachel Johnson stands out above almost any other player through her immense work rate and athleticism. You will not find a player as active as Johnson at any level of rugby; she tackles everything in sight, gets to every single breakdown, makes the gain line, draws in multiple defenders every carry, and never stops communicating.
Youth In The Backline
In the backline, 18-year-old Eti Haungatau is a bonafide rising star. Her combination of speed, strength, and skill in the midfield is exactly what you need to break down aggressive defenses like the Eagles will see in this Super Series. Fellow youngster Ashlee Byrge will also bring great tempo and pace of play to the attack when she gets into the games.
For the Americans, the gap between them and the top contenders is a lot closer than recent scorelines would suggest. The major difference at the moment is the work at set pieces. The lineout has to be more efficient.
The best teams use the lineout as a weapon, especially inside the 22. If the US can solidify the throw-ins, it will be able to utilize its strong and fast athletes in the red zone to score more tries.
A second issue to fix, and one that isn’t terribly difficult to address, is the restarts. Too often, the Eagles are kicking line drives right straight to opposing ball carriers, giving them too much time and space to rumble forward and get onto the front foot. This is fixable, and would help the Eagles to keep the pressure off of their defense.
If the Americans can do a better job in these two areas, there's a really good chance they can spring an upset or two in the Super Series.
A Bold Prediction
This will be an important measuring stick for these teams as they begin to make preparations for the 2021 World Cup. New Zealand is favored coming in, but it will be the Red Roses who finish atop the table come the end of the tournament. Even without Daley-Mclean, England has enough firepower and experience across the whole squad to see their way through this hyper-competitive field.