The 2019 Women’s Six Nations kicks off tonight when England take on Ireland determined to overcome the disappointment of finishing second last year.
Captain Sarah Hunter and her Red Roses side missed out on a second consecutive title with an agonising one point defeat to France in their fourth game and will be fully focused on avenging that result this time round.
They could not be in a better position too, having convincingly won each of their Quilter Internationals in the autumn.
Furthermore they have also spent the last month training as full-time professionals and will be hoping that this will elevate them to where they can consistently dominate the tournament – and indeed the international game on the whole – for a long time to come.
In the first of our Women’s Six Nations specials in conjunction with caytoo we have highlighted four players you should keep a close eye on in this year’s tournament.
Age: 21 Club: Harlequins Position: Wing Caps: 2 Tries: 11
It says something when an individual who has played just two international XV-a-side games is deemed as one of the world’s best talents. But Jess Breach is no ordinary player.
The Harlequins winger burst onto the scene in late 2017, scoring an incredible double hat-trick on her England debut against Canada before following that up with another five tries in her second game a couple of weeks later.
Breach is one of the new generation of players who will (hopefully) spend their entire a career as a professional, having been snapped up by the Sevens set up shortly after that blistering start. She went on to score tries for fun in that format of the game, representing England at the Sevens World Cup last July after picking up a Commonwealth Games bronze medal earlier in 2018.
As well as clearly loving the game, she also relishes being a role model to those fans who regularly turn up to watch the Red Roses play and hopes to inspire more and more young girls to take up the game.
She said: “It’s really nice to see younger girls asking for your autograph or a picture after a game. You can also ask them if they play and they’re really excited to talk to you and the next day take what they’ve seen from you into their training session.”
With insane pace, rapid footwork and the intelligence to spot space seemingly when there is none, comparisons to the great Portia Woodman have already been made. Although her career is still fledgling, it’s clear Breach is an exceptional talent who is set to light up the world of rugby.
LEANNE RILEY (caytoo athlete)
Age: 25 Club: Harlequins Position: Scrum-half Caps: 24 Tries: 2
Keeping a World Cup winner and Team GB Olympian out of the side is no mean feat. But that’s exactly what Leanne Riley has already been done by being named in the starting line-up for today’s opener ahead of Natasha ‘Mo’ Hunt.
After making her international debut in 2013, Riley had to be patient and wait for a chance to force her way into the side but since getting there has been incredibly hard to shift. She has already struck up fantastic on-pitch relationships with fly-halves Katy Daley-McLean and Zoe Harrison, which was exhibited during the Quilter Internationals, especially in the game against the USA where she ran the show.
Riley is the stereotypical Harlequins player – she is fast, possesses insanely quick hands and is always looking for the gap. Yet despite this, she never seems to take a risk and 99% of the time finds the perfect pass to get an attack moving. She is also very consistent and never seems to have a bad game.
She may not have found the try line on the international scene as much as she has for Quins – crossing the whitewash for the first time in last year’s tournament – but believes that the ability to now train full-time will help her develop skills such as this to make her an even more complete player.
She said: “Rugby is a big game, you’ve got a lot of skills to work on both positionally and together as a team. We’ve always done our weights, speed and conditioning sessions with or without having a full-time job but now we have more time on the pitch to perfect those finer skills so when we come together there’s much more quality.”
LARK DAVIES (caytoo athlete)
Age: 24 Club: Worcester Position: Hooker Caps: 13 Tries: 2
A powerful scrummager, trustworthy thrower and dynamic with and without the ball, Lark Davies is everything a high quality hooker should be.
As with Riley, the Worcester player has already achieved an impressive feat by being named in the starting squad for today’s game against Ireland ahead of Amy Cokayne but is fully deserving of her chance having consistently shone when given the opportunity.
She also has that handy knack of grabbing tries too, proved no better than a match-winning double as the Red Roses overcame a stubborn Canada outfit back in November.
Having been inspired to take up rugby after watching on TV at a time when the women’s game was rarely televised, Davies is also wanting to use the huge increase in coverage for her side to encourage even more youngsters to follow in her footsteps.
This is something she also tried to do ass a primary school teacher, a job she admits she loved and hopes to get back into once her rugby career is over.
She said: “I miss the children. I don’t necessarily miss the paperwork of teaching but I miss the interaction with children and I hope to keep my foot in the door. It’s a really positive thing to have the children in schools having a good positive role model and someone doing something a bit different, that’s what teaching is all about and it gives them something different as well.
“I will miss that the most, doing a little rugby session with my nursery children – that was always great fun.”
JO BROWN (caytoo athlete)
Age: 25 Club: Loughborough Lightning Position: Back row Caps: 3 Tries: 1
Netherlands-born Jo Brown has been rewarded for her consistent high-level domestic performances with a full-time international contract despite having just three international caps so far.
A powerful runner and tackler, Brown can most often be found dominating the breakdown or burrowing her way over the try line, something she has done firstly for DMP Sharks and now Loughborough Lightning for the last six years.
She is also a natural leader, having captained many of the teams she has played for, and is widely expected to become a dominant force in England’s forward pack for many years to come.
Before becoming a full-time pro, Brown combined rugby with being an NHS physiotherapist and one day aspires to work with disabled children and as part of the Paralympic movement.
However for the moment she is happy to put that to one side to focus fully on her international career and become the best player she can be.
She said: “For me going full-time has had a huge impact. Before I was working full-time 8-4 as a physio in the NHS and mentally that was quite taxing. Even if you’re not physically doing a lot, some of the stories and the cases you get involved in are actually quite heavy and quite dramatic. So when you go to training you try to switch off but you have all of this going on in the back of your mind and it’s just exhausting.
“But now I can fully concentrate on rugby and actually have energy to put into the right things and focus on the right things now and make sure that when I’m listening I’m taking on board everything that’s going on. There’s no excuses, I can’t say ‘I’m tired’, I can fully concentrate on what’s going on.”
Unfortunately injury means we won’t see Brown play in England’s opener against Ireland but she’s hoping to be back fighting fit for the crunch game against France.
You can watch England begin their Six Nations campaign against Ireland live on Sky Sports Mix at 17:00 this evening.