Rugby World Cup: Favourites England look 'beatable', says Black Ferns assistant coach Whitney Hansen

Saturday's Rugby World Cup blockbuster between England and France delivered on its billing, as two of the tournament favourites went toe to toe in an absorbing encounter at Whangārei.

The 13-7 victory solidified world No.1 side England's status as favourites to take home the Cup, but also gave Black Ferns assistant coach Whitney Hansen a timely dose of encouragement.

While both England and France are held aloft as occupying a tier of their own in terms of their well-rounded game, structured defence and set-piece excellence, Hansen left the hotel lounge where she took in the contest with her colleagues, feeling a tad more confident about the Black Ferns' chances against either side.

Black Ferns assistant coach Whitney Hansen.
Black Ferns assistant coach Whitney Hansen. Photo credit: Photosport

Locked into the top of Pool A, the NZ women will almost certainly have to get past one of the standard bearers to defend their world title, with just one round remaining before the quarter-finalists are determined.

While the Black Ferns came off comfortably second best against both during last year's northern tour, Hansen has seen enough to believe her team can deal with either on home soil.

"It showed the different style of rugby they're trying to play," said Hansen. "The best article I read about it was that you could look at that and see how France's defence was pretty special.

"The other way to look at it is that England are beatable. Teams will be looking at that and thinking that too."

The Black Ferns have clinched a berth in the knockout rounds with their 56-12 win over Wales at Waitakere. This weekend, they'll head north to play Scotland, then stay in Whangārei for their quarter-final against yet-to-be-determined opponents the following weekend.

The disparate scoreboard against the Welsh couldn't paper over the Black Ferns' deficiencies, particularly up front, where they struggled at set-piece.

Both England and France will have clearly identified the Ferns forwards as an Achilles area ripe for exploitation.

On the same note, there's no ignoring the sublime form of the Black Ferns' outside backs, led by powerhouse wing Portia Woodman.

Even without the benefit of a solid platform up front, the back three continue to be lethal, churning out highlight-reel, long-range tries.

If Hansen and head coach Wayne Smith can find the right formula for their pack -clearly the rationale for their heavy rotation of players during pool play - the Ferns could transform into a very scary proposition for the vaunted European heavyweights.

"Our attack didn't get too much quality ball," Hansen said. "When they did, they did well with what they did get.

"We were able to play the attack we're excited about and want to bring to this tournament."

Catch the Rugby World Cup live on Spark Sport or free-to-air on Three, or join us at 4:45pm Saturday for live updates of the Black Ferns v Scotland pool encounter