New Zealand coach Brian Evans openly admits that England Women have moved past the world champions after claiming a series victory last year, but knows that his Black Ferns squad are ready for the challenge of setting the record straight over the coming nine days.
The four-time world champions have arrived in London much better prepared than a year ago when they lost the first two Tests 10-0 at Twickenham and 21-7 at Esher – the first time they had suffered back-to-back losses – before salvaging some pride with an 8-8 draw.
This time there has been no three-month gap from the end of the Women’s National Provincial Championship before the tour with Auckland claiming the title only last month, and Evans believes this year’s competition has been a great proving ground for players.
“They (England) have clearly closed the gap and gone past it if you look at last year,” Evans told Total Rugby ahead of Friday’s opening encounter with England.
“They won the series, won two games and drew the third one, so from our point of view they have gone past us and good on them, fair play to them, they have put a lot of effort into it, a lot of resourcing into it and a lot of hard work so they deserve all the rewards they are getting at the moment.
“It is up to us now to chase them. At the end of the day the positive out of this is that it is good for the women’s game that there is another team that clearly want to be the best in the world so we have got some work to do.
“We have never had the opportunity for quite a few years for players to a, even play but for us to bring players in and get them exposed to top level rugby is great. We have got these regular games against effectively the best team in the world at the moment so it’s an awesome opportunity for players to get a chance.
“It is hard because playing games is the key thing, the NPC in New Zealand is still really strong and this year’s competition was actually really, really good so players get a chance then to develop and play against the best players, but ultimately in any team you want to play and you want to play good competition and that is when you see the best of the players coming out.”
This will be New Zealand’s first outing since that draw with England, while their opponents, in comparison, have played and won nine matches, including a seventh successive Six Nations title and more recently a 23-13 win over France earlier this month.
Emma Jensen recalls the difficulties faced by the Black Ferns last year as they returned to tackle a side they had beaten 13-10 in the Women’s Rugby World Cup 2010 Final, but like Evans is confident they are better prepared for the latest battle with England.
“It was a difficult tour for us, we obviously came over with the aim to win all three games but we got knocked back twice and then we drew the last game. For us it was a big learning curve but I think we have come with a better team this year and we are looking forward to it.
“Every team is going to get closer to us but we have just got to do things better and prepare much better which we have had the luxury of doing this year. Last year we didn’t have any rugby for two or three months, this year we’ve just come off our National Provincial Championship so we are a lot better prepared.
“It is very difficult, we would love to have more games than what we get but we cherish wearing the black jersey so every time we pull it on it doesn’t matter for us.
“We are a lot more confident than last year, I am excited about playing on Friday and really can’t wait to get out there.”
A sentiment echoed by coach Evans, who worryingly for the rest of the women’s game, believes the Black Ferns are building a “pretty formidable” team for the future.
“We are really excited about the future, I think with the blend of players we have got here, plus there are a number of players either with Sevens or who are just out this year for various reasons, like Vita Robinson, Mel Bosman, Victoria Grant is injured.
“We want to do well now for sure but we really do think in the next six or 12 months when we bring the rest of the group together it is going to be a pretty formidable team so we are already pretty excited.”
Friday’s encounter at Esher RFC will be followed by a meeting at the Military Stadium in Aldershot on Tuesday and then the final Test at Twickenham on Saturday after their male counterparts have come face to face.