Home » John Mitchell: Red Roses depth reminds me of the All Blacks

John Mitchell: Red Roses depth reminds me of the All Blacks

by Marko Florentino
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Red Roses head coach John Mitchell has said that England’s depth reminds him of the All Blacks sides of old after gushing about the pool of players at his disposal ahead of the Women’s Six Nations.

Mitchell has named three uncapped players in his 35-player squad ahead of his first tournament in full charge of England’s women, including back row Maddie Feaunati, who has turned down a Black Ferns contract to join up with the group.

The returns of Abbie Ward, Zoe Harrison and Emily Scarratt also bolster a group that Mitchell believes “sent a message” to the world with a decisive victory over world champions New Zealand at WXV in the autumn.

The vastly experienced coach was in charge of New Zealand’s men between 2001 and 2003 and believes that the depth on which he can call is reminiscent of that side, having been impressed by the performances of a number of those pushing for a place in Premiership Women’s Rugby (PWR).

“Obviously we had a fair idea of the core combination and then looked to add into that,” Mitchell explained. “If you look at it, we could have named three sides, to be fair— that’s how much depth we have.

“[I probably haven’t had that] since the All Blacks. And men’s rugby has changed a lot since the All Blacks, so they probably don’t have the same depth as I was privy to back then.

John Mitchell coached the All Blacks at the 2003 World Cup

(Getty Images)

“There’s huge competition within the group and a number of girls chasing each other, which is what I wanted.”

Mitchell confirmed that discussions are advancing over potential encounters with New Zealand and France ahead of the second edition of WXV in the autumn, which will be held in Canada.

It comes out of a desire to test his side more regularly both in training and in matches as he seeks to evolve the team and take it to the next level.

Marlie Packer will continue as England captain as she nears a 100th cap and will be aided by the return of experienced faces Ward and Scarratt, who have both captained their country in the past.

England triumphed at the first edition of WXV in the autumn

(Getty Images)

But with neither having played internationally since the World Cup final — lock Ward having become a mother and centre Scarratt undergoing neck surgery — Mitchell is keen not to over-burden the pair, namechecking Zoe Aldcroft, Sadia Kabeya and Meg Jones as potential leadership alternatives.

“Those girls have been clearly communicated with to focus on their performance first,” Mitchell said of his returnees. “My experience has always informed me that, with a senior playe, if you allow them to focus, to get their performance right first, then they’ll naturally lead anyway.

“They can all just get on and focus on their performance and lead naturally through the through their personality and the roles that they, they play.”

England open their campaign against Italy in Parma on Sunday 24 March, before returning to home soil for a clash with Wales at Ashton Gate.

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