England Women: Head coach Craig Richards sets out plans in build-up to 2021 Rugby League World Cup
England Women have not played since their 2019 tour of Papua New Guinea as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, but are pressing ahead with plans for this year's Rugby League World Cup after returning to training recently
By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 27/01/21 5:01pm
Craig Richards is optimistic England Women will be able to take to the field ahead of this year's Rugby League World Cup after returning to training over the weekend.
Nearly all international rugby league has been put on hold since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, with England's women having not played since their two-match tour to Papua New Guinea in November 2019.
Head coach Richards is now moving ahead with plans for the 2021 World Cup on these shores and building on the lessons learnt from the drawn series with the Orchids, but is eager to get at least one international match for the national side ahead of the tournament opener against Brazil.
"We got a lot out of that tour," Richards said. "We got to try players in different positions, try new players and play around thinking we were going to have another game the following season.
"Obviously that has not come to fruition, but we are hopeful we'll have a mid-season Test match. We don't know who that will be against, but it's imperative we don't go two years without playing as England and starting to look at what would not be a million miles of the starting line-up.
"Are we behind the eight-ball? A little bit, but it just adds to the challenge for me. We can't worry and focus on what others are doing, we're trying to be really tunnel-visioned, and just think about ourselves and prepare ourselves for the best we can do."
England Women and the wheelchair team have both been able to resume training within Covid-19 guidelines during the current national lockdown after being granted elite sport status by the government earlier this month.
However, the players must all undergo and pass lateral flow tests ahead of each training session and maintain social distancing protocols before, during breaks and afterwards.
It is also hoped they will be able to start full contact training in a fortnight, while the Yorkshire-Lancashire Origin series is in the planning stages and a Probables versus Possibles match is under consideration too.
Richards is impressed with the fitness levels of the squad on their return to training, particularly given how the players have all been sidelined for over 12 months due to the 2020 Women's Super League season being cancelled due to the pandemic.
The RFL are hopeful of getting the top-level domestic competition categorised as elite sport too, with a start date of April tentatively pencilled in for the 2021 campaign, and the England boss sees the week in, week out intensity of that as a vital part of the World Cup build-up.
The one thing we do need is a really tough Women's Super League, and hopefully we get a non-disrupted one as well which will build nicely into the World Cup.
"We've got a really intense seven-week block at the moment where we're putting the girls under pressure and trying to match the intensity that we know through data we're going to need to operate at for the World Cup," Richards said.
"We'll then ease things off as the season starts, but then that gives me an opportunity to look at any new additions to Super League and some of the form players.
"The one thing we do need is a really tough Super League, and hopefully we get a non-disrupted one as well which will build nicely into the World Cup. From my point of view, it's fingers crossed we start the season all guns blazing."
The return to training has allowed Richards to get a closer look at some of the more recent call-ups to the England performance squad, with Wigan Warriors' Vicky Molyneux, Castleford Tigers' Lacey Owen and British Army back Carrie Roberts all catching the eye.
There have been changes on the coaching staff too, with St Helens boss Dec Hardman joining and Shaun Briscoe leaving after becoming the England Physical Disability Rugby League team head coach - although he is still serving as a mentor to both players and coaches.
Briscoe's departure coincides with the return of Lindsay Anfield from maternity leave, though, and Richards is delighted to have the former international star and current Castleford head coach on board as his assistant.
"There is a real passion and a real understanding of what it takes to do well in the World Cup, and that's what Lindsay constantly reminds us of and adds to the coaching staff," Richards said.
"You need people who are going to challenge coaches, and Lindsay challenges me and questions everything, and they're the type of people I want around me as coaches. I don't want to select a team, plan a session, go out and deliver something and everybody says 'Craig, that's great'.
"I want people who say 'No, that doesn't work; This needs to be done like this'. Lindsay does that and she's got a great knowledge of the game as well."