THE captains of the TikTok Women’s Six Nations are delighted to be driving the game forwards.
Scotland skipper Rachel Malcolm is thrilled to see the spotlight shining on women’s rugby union as the 2022 Championship prepares for Saturday’s big kick-off.
She said: “When I was 15, I had no idea women’s rugby existed.
“For girls to now know that early doors and see how amazing it is — the incredible athletes on display — is cool and exciting.”
New Ireland captain Nichola Fryday added: “You don’t go into a Championship thinking you are not going to win it. That is every team’s target.”
And here is everything you need to know about the contenders…
Coach: Simon Middleton
League and union player but made his mark as a coach at Leeds, working alongside Stuart Lancaster, Neil Back and Jon Callard.
An instant hit with the women’s team when he was an assistant boss as the side landed the World Cup in France in 2014. Took the Sevens squad to fourth at the Rio Olympics in 2016 and has three Six Nations Slams as head coach with the full side. Made an MBE in 2021.
Captain: Sarah Hunter
Legend of the game who will surely become England’s most-capped player. Currently on 130 Test match appearances and still churning out top-notch performances in the back row.
A World Cup winner in 2014, Hunter, 36, started at Lichfield Ladies and went to Bristol then Loughborough Lightning. A sports science graduate, she was named World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year in 2016.
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Rocky Clark’s Star Player: Marlie Packer
Packer is an absolute savage on the pitch, a phenomenal carrier with so much grit and determination. Whenever we are up against it at Saracens, it’s always Marlie who gets the team going again with a cheeky score.
Rocky’s One to Watch: Sadia Kabeya
The 19-year-old is fairly new on the scene but is one to keep a close eye on throughout this tournament. Kabeya is playing some exceptional club rugby for Loughborough Lightning and I can’t wait to see how she contributes to international duties.
England have won the last three Six Nations and are always in the shake-up.
They will have one eye on the World Cup in New Zealand later in the year but boss Middleton will be looking to rotate his squad ahead of what could be a Slam decider against the French on the final weekend.
Middleton had 40 players in camp to give them a chance to show what they could do.
Forwards: Zoe Aldcroft, Sarah Beckett, Sarah Bern, Hannah Botterman, Shaunagh Brown, Rowena Burnfield, May Campbell, Bryony Cleall, Poppy Cleall, Amy Cokayne, Vickii Cornborough, Lark Davies, Vicky Fleetwood, Rosie Galligan, Detysha Harper, Sarah Hunter (capt), Sadia Kabeya, Alex Matthews, Harriet Millar-Mills, Maud Muir, Marlie Packer, Connie Powell, Abbie Ward.
Backs: Holly Aitchison, Jess Breach, Heather Cowell, Abby Dow, Zoe Harrison, Natasha Hunt, Leanne Infante, Ellie Kildunne, Sarah McKenna, Lucy Packer, Amber Reed, Helena Rowland, Emily Scarratt, Emma Sing, Lagi Tuima, Lydia Thompson, Ella Wyrwas.
Fifteen Grand Slams in 26 Five/Six Nations and 17 title wins.
2021 finish: Winners (beat France 10-6 in final).
Coach: Annick Hayraud
Winning 65 caps for France between 1986 and 2002, Hayraud is nothing short of a French rugby legend.
She won the Grand Slam as a player in 2002, before going on to coach Les Bleus to an unbeaten title in 2018.
In her second spell as the national coach, the 54-year-old will be hoping to lead France to a seventh Six Nations crown.
Captain: Gaelle Hermet
At 25, Toulouse back-row Hermet is captaining England’s biggest challengers in this Six Nations tournament.
Bursting on to the scene in 2017, Hermet has a reputation for doing the basic things well as an uncompromising loose forward.
With leadership skills to boot and with a talented squad behind her, the French captain is set to make a big impact this campaign.
Rocky’s Star Player: Romane Menager
She has been a player who has lit up the scene for years. Comfortable with ball in hand, the No 8 is a classic French player with great footwork and real flair.
Rocky’s One to Watch: Laure Sansus
Already earmarked by many as a possible dark horse, the Toulouse scrum-half is definitely one to keep a keen eye on throughout the five rounds.
Recently, England have put distance between themselves and long-term rivals France.
The French, who last beat Simon Middleton’s side in the 2018 Six Nations, are without Caroline Boujard, Safi N’Diaye and Pauline Bourdon initially, meaning the tournament will be a test of France’s depth.
With the talent to win and Le Crunch on home soil, Hayraud’s side will certainly be backing themselves.
Forwards: Julie Annery, Rose Bernadou, Axelle Berthoumieu, Alexandra Chambon, Annaelle Deshayes, Coumba Diallo, Celia Domain, Charlotte Escudero, Madoussou Fall, Manae Feleu, Audrey Forlani, Emeline Gros, Gaelle Hermet (capt), Clara Joyeux, Assia Khalfaoui, Coco Lindelauf, Marjorie Mayans, Romane Menager, Agathe Sochat, Caroline Thomas, Laure Touye.
Backs: Cyrielle Banet, Camille Boudaud, Emilie Boulard, Yllana Brosseau, Marie-Aurelie Castel, Caroline Drouin, Maelle Filopon, Melissande Llorens, Marine Menager, Lea Murie, Morgane Peyronnet, Laure Sansus, Jessy Tremouliere, Gabrielle Vernier.
Five Grand Slams in 23 Five/Six Nations and six titles.
2021 finish: Runners-up (beaten 10-6 by England in the final).
Coach: Greg McWilliams
New to the hotseat after being appointed last December, McWilliams was on the Irish staff as an assistant in the 2013 Grand Slam season.
A stint in the USA, where he assisted the national side to the 2019 World Cup in Japan, finished with a spell coaching in New York.
The only way is up after failing to qualify for the next World Cup in New Zealand.
Captain: Nichola Fryday
The second row has been capped 22 times and is virtually an ever-present in an Ireland team which has struggled in recent Six Nations.
But the Irish will be smarting and a new coaching set-up could give them the kick they need to upset a few apple carts in this tournament.
Rocky’s Star Player: Lauren Delany
I was lucky enough to be Lauren’s coach at county level with Buckinghamshire earlier on.
She gets the ball at full-back, and then slashes through defences like a hot knife through butter.
She is an elusive runner with a safe pair of hands and has a decent tackle on her, too.
Rocky’s One to Watch: Nichola Fryday
You can’t look further than the captain who has it all on her plate to pull this Irish team out of the doldrums.
The 26-year-old lock has big shoes to fill as a recently named skipper, following on from Ciara Griffin.
Griffin was captain for seven years and Fryday has a lot to live up to, but the slate is wiped clean.
Ireland have got a bit of free hit and can come out swinging in this Six Nations.
They failed to make the World Cup but the IRFU have decided to invest in the women’s structure after that embarrassment and a pile of allegations about mismanagement.
It would not be a surprise if they come out scrapping now that seems to be sorted.
Forwards: Amanda McQuade, Chloe Pearse, Linda Djougang, Christy Haney, Claire Boles, Emma Hooban, Neve Jones, Nichola Fryday (capt), Sam Monaghan, Aoife McDermott, Anna McGann, Grace Moore, Dorothy Wall, Aoife Wafer, Brittany Hogan, Emma Murphy, Edel McMahon, Maeve O’Leary, Hannah O’Connor.
Backs: Aoibheann Reilly, Kathryn Dane, Ailsa Hughes, Nicole Cronin, Nikki Caughey, Enya Breen, Stacey Flood, Michelle Claffey, Eve Higgins, Lucy Mulhall, Beibhinn Parsons, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Aoife Doyle, Natasja Behan, Lauren Delany, Eimear Considine, Molly Scuffil-McCabe, Vicky Irwin.
Peaked with their Grand Slams in 2013 and 2015. Otherwise, have been out with the washing.
2021 finish: 3rd (beat Italy 25-5 in play-off).
Coach: Andrea Di Giandomenico
Taking charge of his first Six Nations campaign back in 2010, Di Giandomenico (below) has guided Italy to memorable wins over the years, the nation currently eighth in the World Rugby rankings.
Becoming more and more competitive as the years have gone by, Di Giandomenico’s consistency has been key to the team’s growth and he will be hoping for more over these coming weeks.
Captain: Manuela Furlan
Representing her country since 2009, Furlan has been a stalwart of Italian rugby.
At 33, the full-back registered a hat-trick against Scotland during the last Six Nations, as the Italians finished fourth in the tournament.
Domestically playing for Villorba in Treviso, Furlan played for Aylesford Bulls in England in 2016-17, winning the Women’s Premiership before the club merged with Harlequins.
Rocky’s Star Player: Manuela Furlan
She is a good hard runner who is a bit of a wizard, able to create something out of nothing with a little chip over or an offload that you don’t expect.
Rocky’s One to watch: Sara Barattin
An absolute veteran of the game with a fair amount of international time under her belt, she’s a consistent element to the Italian squad and definitely one to look out for.
Introduced to the competition in place of Spain in 2017, Italy have never managed to win the title — although they did place second in 2019, their highest finish to date.
Consistency in selection and coaching has seen Le Azzurre grow year on year. They now have six players in their squad who boast more than 60 caps and they are likely to be pushing for a top-three finish.
Forwards: Ilaria Arrighetti, Francesca Barro, Melissa Bettoni, Giordana Duca, Valeria Fedrighi, Alessandra Frangipani, Giada Franco, Lucia Gai, Elisa Giordano, Francesca Granzotto, Isabella Locatelli, Gaia Maris, Michela Merlo, Francesa Sberna, Sara Seye, Emanuela Stecca, Emma Stevanin, Sara Tounesi, Silvia Turani, Vittoria Vecchini, Beatrice Veronese.
Backs: Sara Barattin, Beatrice Capomaggi, Alyssa D’Inca, Manuela Furlan (capt), Veronica Madia, Maria Magatti, Alessia Margotti, Aura Muzzo, Vittoria Ostuni Minuzzi, Beatrice Rigoni, Michela Sillari, Sofia Stefan.
Zero titles in 15 Five/Six Nations.
2021 finish: Fourth.
Coach: Bryan Easson
Drafted in to coach Scotland on an interim basis in August 2020, Easson was given the reins on a full-time basis at the end of that year.
Leading his nation to this year’s World Cup with a 59-3 win over Colombia in late February, Easson had previously played for Exeter Chiefs in the late ’90s before jumping into full-time coaching with Scotland in 2000.
Captain: Rachel Malcolm
Away from rugby, Dr Rachel Malcolm is a lecturer in applied sports science at Nottingham Trent University.
Only taking up the game of rugby in 2015, Malcolm made her Scotland debut in November 2016 and she was named captain in 2018 after becoming such an influential player — and will be looking to ride the high of World Cup qualification.
Rocky’s Star Player: Helena Nelson
Nelson’s ability to hit hard lines and break into space is unmatched.
There’s something magical about Nelson (above), she can read the game so well. She’s physical with her tackling and an absolute worldie for Scotland.
Rocky’s One to Watch: Chloe Rollie
Rollie is a phenomenal force on the pitch, she runs hard and makes area impact whenever she plays.
Scotland will be helped by having already spent a significant period of time as a group while on the hunt for World Cup qualification.
This extended time together will lend itself well when coming up against opposition that haven’t played a game since the end of last year having returned to their clubs.
But the size of Scotland’s task is highlighted by the fact they have lost their last three Six Nations matches against England by an aggregate score of 185-10.
Forwards: Leah Bartlett, Christine Belisle, Sarah Bonar, Lisa Cockburn, Eva Donaldson, Katie Dougan, Jade Konkel, Rachel Malcolm (capt), Rachel McLachlan, Louise McMillan, Lyndsay O’Donnell, Jodie Rettie, Lana Skeldon, Emma Wassell, Alison Wilson, Molly Wright, Anne Young.
Backs: Shona Campbell, Abi Evans, Megan Gaffney, Coreen Grant, Sarah Law, Rhona Lloyd, Caity Mattinson, Jenny Maxwell, Mairi McDonald, Liz Musgrove, Helen Nelson, Emma Orr, Chloe Rollie, Hannah Smith, Meryl Smith, Lisa Thomson, Evie Wills.
One Grand Slam triumph in 26 Five/Six Nations Championships was their only title.
2021 Finish: Fifth.
Coach: Ioan Cunningham
Cunningham was handed a year-long contract last autumn to take the Welsh side to the World Cup in New Zealand this year.
Played for Bridgend Ravens, then age grade international rugby, before coaching at the Scarlets under current Welsh boss Wayne Pivac.
A former Under-20s boss, Cunningham led Wales to wins over Japan and South Africa before the loss to Canada. Under the cosh.
Captain: Siwan Lillicrap
Skipper for the last two Six Nations, one of the standard bearers of Welsh rugby and totally committed to the cause after ditching her university job to take up one of the first national contracts earlier this year.
The back-rower was in pieces after last season’s 45-0 demolition by Ireland but was one of the first to step up and bite the bullet as Wales crashed. One player who could drag Wales out of their slump.
Rocky’s Star Player: Jasmine Joyce
She lights up any rugby pitch she is on. There is a reason she is in every single headline.
Give her the ball and she will create something out of nothing, definitely the star of the squad.
Rocky’s One to Watch: Sisilia Tuipulotu
The 18-year-old has already been dubbed a Welsh rugby sensation, and not because of her cousin Taulupe Faletau either — they can both play. It’ll be great to see what she can do ball in hand come Saturday.
Interesting at first look but dismal on second look. The WRU have finally got their act together and given some of the women professional contracts so maybe they might get their act together on the pitch.
They could rattle a few cages with the likes of Joyce on fire but they are still miles behind the main contenders.
As England boss Simon Middleton said in the week, it takes time to get up to speed to being a pro.
Forwards: Alisha Butchers, Alex Callender, Gwen Crabb, Cara Hope, Kat Evans, Abbie Fleming, Cerys Hale, Sioned Harries, Natalia John, Manon Johnes, Kelsey Jones, Bethan Lewis, Siwan Lillicrap (capt), Liliana Podpadec, Carys Phillips, Gwenllian Pyrs, Donna Rose, Jenni Scoble, Caryl Thomas, Sisilia Tuipulotu.
Backs: Keira Bevan, Lleucu George, Emma Hennessy, Hannah Jones, Jasmine Joyce, Courtney Keight, Kerin Lake, Caitlin Lewis, Ffion Lewis, Lisa Neumann, Lowri Norkett, Kayleigh Powell, Gemma Rowland, Emma Swords, Elinor Snowsill, Niamh Terry, Robyn Wilkins.
Nothing to write home about, hardly troubled the scorers and will need contracts to bed in. Maybe next year.
2021 finish: Sixth (lost to Scotland, Ireland, France in shortened tournament).
Quelle: The Sun