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Who are the Women's Six Nations Ones to Watch?

By Kat Merchant
England celebrate winning the 2021 Women's Six Nations at Twickenham Stoop, London. Issue date: Saturday April 24, 2021. (Photo by Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images)

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With the TikTok Women’s Six Nations kicking off on Saturday in its own window from the men’s tournament and back to the usual round-robin style of five matches, we speak to former England wing and rugby pundit Kat Merchant about her predictions for the championship.

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England:
I can’t see England coming away with anything other than a Grand Slam win. They were outstanding in the New Zealand Tests back in November. France were also on form, also beating the black Ferns but England were missing some big names in that campaign, so will be boosted by the return of players such as Vicky Fleetwood and Emily Scarratt, who is such a big name player.

Ones to watch:
Holly Aitchison has really stepped up in the absence of Scarratt and shown she has what it takes to perform internationally so I’m excited to see what she can add with experienced players around her in this championship.

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World Player of the Year Zoe Aldcroft has to be another one to watch- she’s an incredible athlete and is dominating at club level for Gloucester-Hartpury. She can do the dog work as well as the flair play.

As far as uncapped players to keep an eye on, Ella Wyras has been carving up at Saracens where she plays her club rugby- making line breaks and providing great speed of ball so I’m excited to see what she can bring on the international stage when she has the chance.

Who will provide England’s biggest challenge?
France without a doubt. France in France is always a big ask- they are a multi-threat team, have a dangerous pack and have skilful and fast backs to complement their physicality. It will likely all come down to that final weekend when England travel to Stade Jean Dauger in Bayonne.

France:
I think France will come second. They are very much on form but England will edge it as long as they keep their composure.

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France do have a point to prove not having held the Six Nations crown since 2018, and their performances against world champions New Zealand will have boosted their confidence. They will also be raring to have a big game against England in the World Cup year to see where they are at.

Ones to watch:
Caroline Drouin is an incredibly exciting player to watch. She runs the game tactically well whilst having the ability to change the tempo. She’s a running, passing and kicking threat and has the calm composure to add points from the kicking tee. Any advantage plays and rest assured she’ll be pulling out the crossfield kicks to the dangerous French back three.

Romaine Menager is another to keep a watch for. The flanker had a while out with concussions and wasn’t her usual self in the Autumns so I expect her to be back in fighting form this Six Nations- she is a world-class player!

Wales:
Talking points for this team obviously include the new professional contracts which is huge for Wales. I don’t think they will have had enough time together for it to take immediate effect, but more time together will enable them to be more clinical. Bristol Bears are doing fantastically in the Premier 15’s this year and are boosted by their six full-time Welsh players.

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Ones to watch:
You can’t go too far without mentioning Jasmine Joyce, the Team GB sevens flyer is always a threat to any defensive line. Give her an inch of space and she’ll make ground if not score!

Alisha Butchers, another Bristol player, is a young back row player who is really making her mark and could be key in getting her team turnovers.

Ireland:
Ireland have had a tough few years. We’ve seen the battles they have had to put up with on and off the pitch and I fear they have fallen behind the other nations.

They have a new head coach in Greg McWilliams and as they didn’t qualify for the World Cup they can focus on development for this tournament. They have picked nine uncapped players and in some ways, this is a great opportunity to play with little expectation on their shoulders. However, I think realistically the lack of experience within the side might catch them out.

Ones to watch:
Another winger to watch is Beibhinn Parsons, the 20-year-old already has seven Six Nations tries to her name, has raw speed and power and always makes metres with ball in hand.

Scotland:
Watching Scotland over the years I’ve really seen them develop as a team. They are much more competitive now- drawing with France last year was massive for them and actually, they could easily have won that game. They are a brave team and with World Cup qualification under their belts, will definitely be wanting to have their highest ever finish this year.

Ones to watch:
Jade Konkel is unreal. The number eight is a real powerhouse and awesome defender. She also brings a clam and experienced head whenever she steps on the pitch for Scotland. Lisa Thomson is an immensely strong player. The centre is a threat as a ball carrier but also a unit in defence.

Italy:
Italy are one of the most exciting teams to watch. They are known for playing at high tempo and having a relentless defence. Fitness is an area for Italy as they put in huge shifts for 60 minutes but fall short in the last 20. Their results can sometimes be inconsistent, but they have a vastly experienced squad this year and will want to have tough games ahead of the World Cup.

Ones to watch:
In the centres Beatrice Rigoni and Michela Sillari are both fantastic defenders. Ilaria Bettoni at hooker is also a standout player and definitely one to watch.

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