England Women’s head coach Craig Richards has said preparations for next year’s World Cup are well and truly back on track now that the Performance Squad has returned to group training. And he will not allow the coronavirus disruption to be an excuse when the tournament comes around in 12-months time.
Having been given the go-ahead to get back on to the field in September, England’s elite women have worked through a six-week staged Return to Playing programme.
This has involved the 30 players being split into North West and Yorkshire groups, with the coaching staff at all sessions following guidelines drawn up by the England Performance Unit and Dr Gemma Phillips, the RFL’s Covid lead.
Initial sessions involved small groups of players working on skills in comparative isolation, but the last two weeks have seen full contact in larger groups.
Saturday was Richards’ first chance for more than seven months to get the whole group together, with the session ending with an opposed training match between the North West and Yorkshire groups.
“We’ve been doing some regional sessions with the girls for the last few weeks but, as good as that was, it was not the same as having the full squad back together,” Richards told League Express.
“So to have been able to get everyone back together, and with full contact, was fantastic.
“We’ve done a lot of online work with the girls, but it was a relief to have the full squad and coaching staff together again.
“It has been difficult to get to this point, but we’ve had great guidance the whole way on what we need to do. The reward of all that hard word was being out there again together.
“It was a really good session and the enthusiasm from the girls shone through. We did some full 13 v 13 contact work at the end of the session and going into that I was a little bit nervous. But the majority of girls have kept themselves in good shape during the time away, so we go a lot out of the day.
“Before the pandemic hit, we were really happy with where we were as a group. We’d got a lot out of the Papua New Guinea tour last year, we’d had a chance to look at some players and move some players around.
“We do feel like we have lost a few months work on game management and how we want to play, but that won’t be used as an excuse next year. We have time to catch up now and we have a big year coming up when we will have even more time with the squad.
“We’re trying to go into sessions now with the mindset that the disruption has been and gone and it’s about what we do now that counts. We won’t sit back and moan about missed opportunities.
“In the past, we might have moaned that we did not have enough time with the girls, but one positive to come out of pandemic is seeing how much work can be done online. We can be sat in our living rooms but still working hard and we will continue to use that next year as well.”
While the national squad will continue to meet between now and the World Cup, Richards knows it is vital that the Super League competition returns to action next year.
The league campaign was another victim of Covid-19 after it was due to kick-off the weekend after the country went into a national lockdown. It was later confirmed that it wouldn’t take place at all in 2020.
“As a national team we’re desperate for the Super League season to restart at the usual time next year,” added Richards.
“Before we get there though we’re hoping to have a tough national pre-season programme with another origin series.
“On the back of those games, we need the girls to go into a tough Super League season. It needs to be the toughest campaign yet, it needs to be as intense as it can be and we need the game to be as level as it can be. All that is a big part of our preparation for the World Cup.
“We’re hoping that the processes we put in place and went through to get out there at the weekend, can be a bit of a roadmap for the Super League clubs to get the game back going again in a safe environment.”
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