Black Ferns aura of invincibility just 'not there'
England are talking up their chances of ending New Zealand's long reign at the women's rugby World Cup with vice-captain Sarah Hunter declaring the Black Ferns have lost their air of invincibility.
The tournament opened in France tonight.
New Zealand and England were tipped to be the form teams again, having met in the last three finals.
The Black Ferns have won all three and also the 1998 tournament. They haven't lost a match at the tournament since a semifinal defeat 23 years ago.
England were clinging to the notion they could push on from their test series wins over New Zealand in 2011 and 2012.
"The aura about the Black Ferns is not necessarily there, everyone here has played them and everyone here has beaten them," Hunter told Sky Spot UK.
Captain Katy Mclean backed up that theory.
"There are girls in this team who have never lost to New Zealand. That shows how far we have come," Mclean told The Guardian.
"This year more training has given the girls time to iron out the technical weaknesses of past tournaments and produced a team with extraordinary confidence and strength."
England were hugely motivated to avenge their 13-10 final defeat in London four years ago.
"I don't think I have ever gotten over that loss," England coach Gary Street told The Times.
He sensed that could be put in the past by victory in Paris.
"It's a new team, it's a new squad and there's definitely a buzz, we're in the best place we've ever been ... hopefully even better this time."
What England were happily overlooking was the way the Black Ferns bounced back from their two series losses up north to claim a 3-0 whitewash in New Zealand last year.
The balance of power has been restored, but it looked delicate. In fact, there was a solid theory that this tournament would certainly be the most even.
England's European reign has certainly got shaky. They had won seven consecutive Six Nations titles, including six clean sweeps, through to 2012 before Ireland and then France this year knocked them off their perch.
"There's England, New Zealand, France, Canada, USA, Ireland and Australia who will all think they can win it," Street said.
"It just shows how much the women's game in general has improved. There are lots of well-funded unions now.
"People will watch this World Cup and realise that there are a lot of good women players out there and it will be a game to watch. It will be a real eye-opener."
New Zealand open their campaign against Kazakhstan tonight while England play Samoa.
Other first round matches were: Canada v Spain, Australia v South Africa, United States v Ireland, France v Wales.