Defending Women’s Under 20 Nations Cup champions England are determined to “make a clear statement of our intent” when they begin their challenge for a third successive title against Canada at the University of California – Santa Barbara on Thursday.
England, who ran in 18 tries in crushing USA 110-0 in the final to retain their title on home soil in 2009, are unbeaten at Under 20 level this year, having beaten Wales 32-19, Scotland 77-0 and France 12-5 during the Six Nations window.
If they can overcome Canada, South Africa and hosts USA then they will complete a clean sweep, but coach Amanda Bennett is not getting carried away with title talk and knows the challenge her charges face over the next nine days.
“We have come here with the goal of winning the Nations Cup. In order to do this we need not only to win against Canada, but to make a clear statement of our intent. The players understand that and after a successful season so far expectations are high,” said Bennett.
“This team has great experience and includes three European Trophy winners so they will understand the pressure of performing through championships. We are confident we've selected a team that can deliver a performance which will set the tone for our Nations Cup campaign.
“At the same time, however, there is no question of over confidence. This will be a new and extremely challenging environment for most of our players, just what they need if they are going learn and progress to senior rugby.
No fear for newcomers South Africa
“Previous experience has shown that Canada will be physical, athletic and compete through the 80 minutes. This is exactly the kind of test England's Under 20s will relish after the victories over France, Scotland and Wales earlier this year.”
The other match on day one brings together hosts USA and South Africa, the latter making their competitive debut at Under 20 level and eager to find out how they match up against their more experienced opponents.
“We are delighted to enter such a strong competition, and although our youngsters don’t play that often against teams of this calibre, I am sure they will give good account of themselves. This is a very good opportunity to test them against some of the best young players in the world,” said coach Kaya Malotana.
The teams play each other in a round robin format with the top two sides then meeting in the final at the Harder Stadium on the University of California – Santa Barbara campus on 23 July, with the others battling to avoid finishing bottom in the day’s earlier match.
“The U20 Nations Cup is the leading age grade women’s international competition and we are proud to host this elite event here in the United States,” said USA Rugby Women’s High Performance Director and Tournament Director Alex Williams.
“These athletes are world-class and, given their age, we fully expect to see a handful of players from this tournament at the 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup and on the Olympic stage in Rio in 2016.”
16:00 - England v Canada
18:00 – USA v South Africa
14:00 – Canada v South Africa
16:00 – USA v England
16:00 – England v South Africa
18:00 – USA v Canada
14:00 – Third place play-off
16:00 – Final
All times local
The same four nations will contest the senior equivalent of the Women's Nations Cup in Canada from 2-13 August.
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