Katy Daley-McLean has thrown down the gauntlet to Helena Rowland and says England’s Women’s Six Nations Saturday showdown against France will be the true test of her No.10 credentials, writes Will Jennings.
Red Roses legend Daley-McLean unexpectedly hung up her international boots in December and Rowland, 21, has been the player chosen by Simon Middleton to fill the lofty fly-half void.
Rowland has starred in England’s imperious victories over Scotland and Italy but Daley-McLean, who skippered the team to World Cup glory in 2014, reckons this weekend’s final will prove a sterner test.
Rowland has retained the No.10 jersey for the clash against Les Bleus and Daley-McLean is challenging her to prove she’s more than just a playmaker in the Super Saturday showpiece.
The 35-year-old, who racked up 116 caps between 2007 and 2020, said: “She’s got an immense amount of talent.
“She’s very quick, great with the ball in hand and was fantastic when we last played France at Twickenham in the autumn.
“I think for her, it’s about continuing that development of game control. This game against France will really test that – we know she’s very attacking and has got a great big kicking game, but for me, I want to see her controlling that territory battle with France and playing England in the right areas.
“I think it’s going to be a really strong, physical game.
“She’s much quicker than me. She wants to play – as No.10s you get an opportunity to be in back field a bit more.
“She’s got very quick feet, she likes getting up early and she likes taking on space. I’d like to say I was quite an attacking No.10 back in my younger days, and I really like that about her – that she’s not afraid to go and take half gaps, and with the pace she’s got it brings in the rest of that back line.”
Middleton’s players breezed past Scotland 52-10 and Italy 67-3 and head into the final of this year’s revamped competition full of confidence.
Zoe Harrison will start outside Rowland at No.12 while elsewhere, Saracens ace Poppy Cleall will replace captain Sarah Hunter at No.8.
Cleall, 28, impressed in both of England’s round robin fixtures while twin sister Bryony also scored in England’s emphatic victory over Italy.
Daley-McLean believes both have been a game-changer for Middleton’s team and are blazing a trail for other young forwards to follow.
The Sale Sharks star, who competes against the Saracens duo in the Allianz Premier 15s, added: “Those girls [Bryony and Poppy] have been doing this for club all year long so it probably wasn’t as much of a surprise for those of us who’ve played against us.
“They don’t play like your traditional forwards – and that’s a strength of England. They want to offload, they want to pass, they want to throw 15m passes out into the backline.
“That’s what makes them a bit more unique – you don’t necessarily know what’s coming from them.
“Yes, they’re very good carriers and have got good skill sets, but they’ve also got very good hands.
“That’s where England want to utilise the skill set of both of them – to allow the backs to play from real positive front foot carries.”
France toppled Wales and Ireland in their group stage matches and will prove a tough nut to crack as England bid to make it three Championship crowns on the spin.
Annick Hayraud’s team racked up 109 points in those matches and – with the game broadcast live in front of the BBC cameras – the stage is set for a cracker at Twickenham Stoop.
Daley-McLean is hoping for 80 minutes of free-flowing, expansive rugby but is backing the Red Roses to get over the line and cap a Six Nations hat-trick heading into a World Cup year.
“France are the in-form side, they’ve scored a range of tries and their back three have been phenomenal,” added Daley-McLean, who is working as an ambassador for England Rugby’s Allianz Inner Warrior.
“You can’t give them time and space. The thing I’ve enjoyed most about France is the variation in attack – they haven’t just played a forwards game, and that’s the kind of game we want to see: France and England going against each other.
“Hopefully we don’t see a tight game – we want that wide, expansive running rugby we’ve seen during the previous two weekends.
“I think it will be tight, but England have really built that mental edge over France. It’s going to be a great spectacle for the women’s game.”
Visit EnglandRugby.com/innerwarrior for more information. To find a Warrior Camp near you search https://www.englandrugby.com/warriorcamps