There isn’t much that can be said about Katy Daley-McLean that hasn’t been uttered on numerous occasions already.
The caytoo athlete has been an icon of English rugby for more than a decade, inspiring thousands of women and young girls the length and breadth the country.
Not that you’d know it when speaking to the softly spoken fly-half – it’s fair to say that humble is an understatement when it comes to describing her.
But while she may have a quiet and very friendly personality off the pitch, she is a fearsome warrior on it and it’s exactly this which has seen the public fall in love with her.
What’s more, the Loughborough Lightning star is one of those mercurial talents who only gets better with age.
No better was this demonstrated than in England’s dismantling of Ireland in their 2019 Six Nations opener last night where Daley-McLean ran the show and then some.
Her reading of the game was sublime; her grubber for Sarah McKenna to dive onto inch perfect; her inside pass to set up Zoe Harrison’s try genius.
The Red Roses link up perfectly for their fifth try 🌹
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) February 1, 2019
It was a very similar performance to the one she produced against the USA back in the autumn on a night where she produced a masterclass despite the abysmal conditions.
That evening also marked her 100th England appearance, making her only the sixth England player – and fifth woman – to reach the milestone and she admitted it was the perfect way to mark the occasion.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything more from my 100th cap,” the former DMP Shark recalled.
“It was a pretty wet and miserable day but the girls were great and having family and friends there really topped it off.
“My niece and my sister came out with me which was great because they have been following me throughout my career, especially for my little sister as she’s been through a lot with us in terms of World Cups and other tournaments. So to share something nice with them was great.”
Last month Daley-McLean was rewarded for her fantastic service and superb form over recent years by being one of the 28 XV-a-side players offered historic full-time contracts.
It’s not the first time she has been paid to play the sport she loves, having been part of the side offered temporary deals ahead of the 2017 World Cup.
Daley-McLean was also part of the sevens squad that travelled to Rio 2016 and agonisingly missed out on an Olympic medal, losing to Canada in the bronze medal play-off.
While she did not particularly enjoy the transition to being a professional back then, it’s been a much smoother ride this time round and is really enjoying being able to fully focus on her rugby.
Her presence is also keenly felt by many of the younger members in the side, including half-back partner and fellow caytoo athlete Leanne Riley with whom she has already struck up a fearsome on-pitch relationship.
“It’s nice to have a really calming presence and wise heads on shoulders for me,” the Harlequins scrum-half said.
“I have quite a pivotal role in the squad and playing alongside Katy makes my game a lot easier. You’re not overthinking, you’re able to listen to her voice and calm your nerves down and that’s something that’s massively helped me personally.”
Another who is benefitting from having Daley-McLean in the squad is hooker Lark Davies – who is also a caytoo athletes and former primary school teacher – who explained that the help she gives them off the pitch is just as important as what she brings on it.
“That direction that you get from those pivotal players that sometimes as a youngster you need going forward or a little bit of advice when you need it as well is vital,” the Worcester Valkyries player stated.
“They’re all big characters too so I think it’s massive coming into a squad having people there that you can have a chat to and that can give you a bit of direction when you’re on the pitch.”
Daley-McLean doesn’t just want to be a role model to her team-mates though. She wants to show young girls that they can play rugby and that they can be just as well loved as their male counterparts.
This was something she realised upon being part of the side that won the 2014 World Cup, a victory that propelled them into the public spotlight for the first time and also started an incredible run of success for women’s team sport.
— Katy Daley-Mclean (@katymc10) November 11, 2018
Having seen the impact such victories can have, the South Shields-born star is determined to help her side to further success and keep enhancing the perception of the women’s game.
“I remember waking up the day after we won and we were on the front pages of The Telegraph and The Times, newspapers at the time that weren’t particularly known for having many pages on women’s sport,” the 33-year-old recalled.
“For me that was a massive eye opener, seeing what we’d done and that the perception of women’s rugby had massively changed almost overnight.
“People thought that this story was worthy of being on the front of a newspaper and the thing now is to keep doing that.
“We shouldn’t be surprised anymore, it should be the norm that when women’s teams are being successful then they should now expect the same as what the men’s teams get.”
The first thing on her hit list will undoubtedly wrestling back the Six Nations title from France, while attentions will also be heading towards the 2021 World Cup before too long.
Personally there are also plenty of milestones for Daley-McLean to break. She is poised to become only the third England player after Owen Farrell and Jonny Wilkinson to break the 500 point barrier (she is currently on 499) and before long Rocky Clark’s international appearances record (137) could be on the horizon.
But for now we should just sit back and soak in Daley-McLean playing the best rugby of her career. When she’s on song, there are few better players in the world to watch and we should feel privileged that she is a Red Rose representing our nation.