With the Women’s Rugby World Cup in Ireland this summer, sport online editor Nancy Frostick spoke to England prop and former UoB student Laura Keates about the tournament
It is three years since England’s women’s rugby team faced Canada in the World Cup Final. Previously one-time winners of the tournament in 1994, the Red Roses were in their fourth successive final having lost to old foes New Zealand in 2002, 2006 and 2010. With the burden of that record on their shoulders but new opponents blocking their path to world glory, England made no mistakes at Paris’s Stade Jean-Bouin with a comprehensive 21-9 victory.
Just one of the players on the winning side in 2014 was Worcester prop and UoB alumna Laura Keates. As an integral member of that campaign and the England squad for a number of years, news of a long-term injury she sustained in training in May will come as a serious blow to head coach Simon Middleton and England fans.
Although Laura won’t be taking part in the World Cup, she was able to give us some insight into the Red Roses’ preparations as they defend their title in Ireland and build on their Grand Slam victory in the Six Nations, which they secured in March.
Q: After a fantastic team performance at the Six Nations, which was England’s first title and Grand Slam in that tournament since 2012, what are the positives the squad will take forward to the World Cup this summer?
A: Thank you very much, it was great to secure a Grand Slam again after not winning it for so long! We really enjoyed this tournament and tried to develop from match to match. I think one of the main positives we will take through to our three-test tour in New Zealand in June is that we were able to identify problems during the games, and work out how to solve them. We were 13-0 down at half time in our France match, and had to dig deep to turn that around and get the win.
Q: What do you think has given England the edge over your rivals in the most recent international matches?
A: We have worked really hard as individuals prior to this tournament to ensure we are in the best physical condition possible, and have been developing our team play and structure for a while now. We have worked hard in our units, for example we have had camps specifically for the forward pack where we have developed our style of play. We also went full time in January, which has given us a lot more time together as a squad, and also allowed us to have proper recovery time.
Q: Does the win over Ireland in the title-deciding match at the Six Nations give you a psychological advantage going to the World Cup where they will be hosts?
A: Although we were delighted with our win in the last match of the Six Nations, whenever you play a team in their home country it is always difficult, and that is no different in Ireland where their home crowd is immensely supportive. Ireland are a strong team and we worked hard for our win, but unfortunately I do not believe that will give us any advantage in the future, we will need to be as clinical as possible in all of our matches at the World Cup.
Q: On a personal level, what are your hopes for 2017 with England and Worcester?
A: Next season the new Women’s Super Rugby competition will launch, with 10 teams competing around the country. Luckily for me Worcester have been successful, so from a club perspective I’m looking forward to seeing how we can start the season, and hopefully finish in the top four. With England we have a massive year ahead of us, with a tour to New Zealand in June and then the World Cup in August. I hope we can keep improving and building on our performances, and of course the ultimate dream is for us to win the World Cup again.
Q: What do you miss about studying at Birmingham?
A: I missed everything about being a student, so much so that I have recently applied and been accepted to study Dentistry at the University!
The Women’s Rugby World Cup begins on 9th August with England against Spain in the opening match of the tournament at Dublin’s UCD Bowl.