With less than 50 days to go until Women's Rugby World Cup
2010, we continue our series of features looking back at previous
tournaments by taking a trip down memory lane with Gill Burns, a
member of the England side who were crowned champions in 1994.
READ KATHY FLORES' MEMORIES OF USA'S WIN IN 1991 >>
Belief, mental strength and teamwork, the three qualities that former England international Gill Burns believes are vital if the current crop of players are to follow in her footsteps and lift the Women's Rugby World Cup trophy on 5 September.
Burns, an iconic figure in the history of Women's Rugby whose international car spanned 14 years, is currently President of the Rugby Football Union for Women and believes the current generation of players can rise to the challenge and taste success on home soil.
"[It will take] a bit of belief, a strength," Burns told Total Rugby Radio. "The preparation is done now and you can't fault the England set-up, the girls are all prepared and it's a very strong squad which we have going forward.
"I do think it's down to mental strength and individuals being determined to play as a team, play to the plan, play for each other and I think it's quite a cohesive unit. Certainly that has not always been the case in the past, but I think the England squad from the first girl to the last girl are there as a team and know what their role is, and what part they will play in that challenge.
"I would say expectation is quite high because we know it can be done. New Zealand have shown that there are some chinks in their armour and that they aren't invincible. In that two test series in November, they won one and lost one.
No room for complacency
"They will start to doubt the fact that they have been number one for so long and thinking maybe England could take the crown. I think the home venue will have a great advantage to the English players and if we get the crowds behind them they know they have every chance.
"I think the England girls, though, know they can't become complacent in anyway shape or form, because of course although they did get the Grand Slam in this year's Six Nations that final game against France was a nail-biting finish.
"France were ahead until the last few minutes of the game when England sneaked a victory, so they know that form earlier on in the season doesn't mean anything unless they actually make it all happen at the World Cup."
England have reached ever Women's Rugby World Cup final to date, but actually only got their hands on the silverware once - in 1994 when Burns and her teammates avenged their defeat three years early by the USA.
Burns, who also suffered defeats to the New Zealand Black Ferns in 1998 semi final and 2002 final before retiring, has fond memories of her World Cup experiences and the "dream come true" feelings when she got her hand on the trophy.
USA not invincible
"I wouldn't say it [the 1991 final] feels like yesterday, but it certainly doesn't feel like being quite that long ago," recalled Burns, whose England side were beaten 19-6 by the Women's Eagles in that inaugural final in Cardiff in 1991.
"At the time USA Women's rugby was the strongest, they had played the longest and were way ahead as favourites going into that competition and it was a great chance for us to play against what was a very good side at the time. England played quite well but we didn't raise our game enough against that experienced America team."
"America had been sort of all conquering and had been Down Under and had beaten teams like New Zealand. It was so nice to go away to America the year before the 1994 World Cup, we played against them in the Canada Cup, and we beat them there and it gave us real confidence because we knew that this team that had been all conquering for so long weren't invincible ... so we knocked America off their pedestal at that World Cup."
England had cruised through the pool stages of the World Cup in Scotland, beating Russia 66-0 and Scotland 26-0 before overcoming Canada 24-10 and France 18-6 to take their place against the Women's Eagles in the final.
Burns, now a school teacher in Liverpool, formed part of a key axis for England, the number 8 linking well with Emma Mitchell at scrum half and captain Karen Almond at fly half as the Red Roses ran out 38-23 victory over USA to get their hands on the trophy.
A dream come true
"It was just like a dream come true, you say when you're a child you look forward to playing for your country and for me it was maybe playing hockey or doing athletics or something like that when I was a child," explained Burns.
"I never dreamed I would have played rugby, but to win a World Cup in any sport is the best sporting accolade. You just feel a great sense of pride and achievement, you know that all the hard work and commitment you've given and the sacrifices that you've made have been worthwhile.
"It was a wonderful feeling and it was something that I really hoped I would achieve again but you can't take it away once you've been there. As we say once a world champion always a world champion."
Burns only took up rugby at the age of 23, having played a number of sports to a high level, and within a year was pulling on the England jersey, something she admits will never happen now with the advancements in the Women's Game.
"The general standard of play had improved [in 1994] and I think that has been the case tournament upon tournament," explained Burns, a ballet dancer from a young age who admits she "never regretting committing" herself to rugby.
"I think in the very early tournaments each of the international sides had two or three world-class players and it went on to 1994 and it was nine or 10 world-class players and then certainly in 1998 and 2002 the standard had improved dramatically.
"In 2006, the final between England and New Zealand was an absolutely awesome game, people who watched that as a neutral said it was the best game of rugby they have seen for a long time and that included men's games. It certainly was a very high standard.
"The players are world class from one to 15 now and it wasn't always the case, there were a few world class players playing amongst other girls who at the time were first choice but everybody wasn't absolutely fit, everybody didn't quite understand the game quite as well as they do now.
"I first picked up a rugby ball in late October 1987 and I got my first cap for England just less than 12 months later - that would never happen now because you wouldn't be good enough after one year of playing the game to break into the international game.
"Now players have got several years experience and have come through the wonderful structure that we have and by the time you get to the first team you really are sort of the finished article."
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