By France captain, Marie-Alice Yahé
With less than a year to go until France hosts the Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014, we can already feel the excitement in the squad. Selections will become increasingly more difficult and the desire to take part is building because this is a once in a lifetime event and rare in a career, but there are also some notes of caution: we're telling ourselves that there is still much work to do in order to get there as well-prepared as possible because these tournaments are not to be missed. They are too important not to get there 300 per cent ready.
To play in a World Cup in France is the dream for any player in our squad - to have the opportunity to play in front of our family and friends is like having a 16th player on the pitch. Looking at those familiar faces will make the players rise to the big occasion, get up quicker from a tackle and never give up. It brings feelings and emotions multiplied by 10 on the pitch and in the individual performances.
In turn, it means more pressure on our shoulders with all those hopes and expectations to do well and show our sport in the best possible light. But playing at home also means the ideal preparation for us as players and it will give us enormous pride.
To defend our country and our colours abroad is special, but to play in our own country is something even stronger and a great recognition for our Union. This in turn, I hope, will result in more visibility for our sport and will contribute to the development of women’s rugby.
Four years on from England 2010
This World Cup will inevitably be different from the tournament four years ago in England, because our countries and our cultures are different. 2014 will be played largely at Marcoussis, our union's unique national training centre and one of a kind in the world of rugby. I hope that by being in Paris, our capital city, it will allow this event to attract big crowds with easy accessibility for our fans and also those from overseas.
There will also be matches like the semi-finals and final played in the brand new and mythical arena that is the Stade Jean-Bouin and playing in these venues represents a milestone in a career and brings a higher profile to our event.
It will, of course, be important for France as hosts to perform well, not only to put our country as high as possible in the hierarchy of women’s rugby, but for the pride of our country, the Union and to get more recognition for our sport and the players. This makes it possible to make more and more girls aware of our game and also to break certain taboos that are still prevalent in the image of the women’s game. The World Cup is a great showcase for our sport. We represent 10,000 female players registered who do not wear the French national jersey but play our sport and we must represent them as well as we can.
France have never reached a Women’s Rugby World Cup final, but having been lucky enough to play in a World Cup I know that to reach the final is simply about being at your best for each match, to never fail and to be truly ready physically. This is what we learned from our last World Cup, it is this lack of physicality which was difficult for French players to understand four years ago.
2010 Final - England v New Zealand
A better France than ever before
Since then, we have decided with our coaching staff and our fitness adviser to focus on that physical element, to make up for this deficit, which meant that even when we competed technically or rugby-wise, we still somehow lost matches sometimes. It was a wake-up call, the way the game had evolved and is played at the highest level. We needed to be the best. The players work hard and all the rugby work we put in will, I hope and believe, allow us to play in our first final in Paris.
In my eyes this French team certainly has huge potential. It has a mix of young players who are dynamic, fast and skilful, having played from an early age, but also older players who give the group some experience, game management and also help make it a an extraordinary adventure off the pitch, without which a rugby team would not succeed.
The principal challenge for us at the World Cup will be to start well, to aim for the top three and then, playing good rugby and with a bit of luck, win the title. That is our challenge and our dream.
Will there be a surprise team at the World Cup? I don’t know, but in events like the Six Nations or the World Cup each match is unique and each match counts so anything is possible, no team is invincible over one match. You need to look out or and respect all 12 nations. Some teams are more fancied than others because of their track record, but things can change with just one match.
Look at 2013, when Ireland won the Six Nations when everyone still saw England or France winning it. Given how well they played, Ireland deserved their title without a doubt. Other nations are an unknown quantity, like Spain. Their game will be a surprise because we don’t play them regularly, but we will be wary of every nation.
Our squad numbers around 40 now but the matches against Canada and England will make it possible for the coaches to reduce the squad down before the World Cup. We then have the Six Nations and our desire and objective is to win it, win every match and win the competition. But our ultimate objective for us remains the World Cup - to showcase our sport and our passion.
Sporting events are always moments of joy and happiness and if we win the title, we know how to thank the supporters!
This review is taken from the IRB World Rugby Yearbook 2014, click here to get your copy.