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Who can step up to 'world class' status this Women's Six Nations?

By Will Owen
Ellie Kildunne and Helena Rowland of England celebrate winning the Rugby World Cup 2021 Semi-final match between Canada and England at Eden Park on November 05, 2022, in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

Happy Sixmas! After a huge, successful Rugby World Cup in New Zealand it’s finally time for the Northern Hemisphere to watch some international women’s rugby without waking up at daft hours. The TikTok Women’s Six Nations kicks off this weekend. It’s arguably the best annual rugby event of the year.


Not only is it the beginning of a tournament, but it’s the start of a new World Cup cycle. This one is shorter than ever before, thanks to the postponement of the 2021 tournament. This means all six teams will be in a hurry to blood young players and get them ready for world domination in England, in 2025.

But which established players are looking to make one more step up to “world class” status? And for anyone who hasn’t seen much of the women’s game before, who should you be really excited just to watch? Let’s have a look at a back from each nation who might catch the eye of any new fans…

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Ireland – Emma Swords
Swords’ path to the Irish squad has been unusual, to say the least. Previously capped by England, she initially declared for Wales, but didn’t get a look-in ahead of the impressive Keira Bevan and Ffion Lewis. The Harlequins scrum-half has now swapped her allegiances to Ireland, and will be keen to show Wales what they’re missing out on.

With Kathryn Dane sadly sidelined for a long time, Swords will battle with Alisha Hughes for the starting 9 jersey. At club level, she often replaces England’s Lucy Packer from the bench, and usually makes a positive impact. Swords’ strength has to be her speed of service – if Ireland’s mobile pack can be quick to get into shape late on in games, Swords could be a vital catalyst in helping her team move forward and score tries.

Wales – Lleucu George
George’s World Cup experience was limited to the final half hour of Wales’ quarter final loss against the Black Ferns – but she immediately proved to coach Ioan Cunningham that she should have been playing all along. Wales have lacked a strong kicking game in the last few years, and Lleucu George might very easily be the answer.

George is a 50/22 machine – her boot is huge and could get Wales out of trouble. She has been in imperious form at ten for Gloucester-Hartpury this season and is a huge reason why they’ve been so successful and exciting. Her succeeder Elinor Snowsill had one of her greatest games ever for Wales against Scotland in the World Cup, but it feels as though the time is right for Wales to start their 23-year-old baller prospect. Her range of attacking kicks and passes could be huge to bring the best out of this Welsh backline.


England – Ellie Kildunne
Sure, it’s strange to pick out a player who’s already scored in a World Cup final as a “one to watch” this Six Nations, following England’s Eden Park heartache, nobody has responded better than Harlequins fullback Kildunne. Her form has been exhilarating, and she’s undoubtedly one of the most exciting attacking threats in the Premier 15s.

It’s hard to watch any five-minute segment of a Quins game from this season without watching Kildunne tear it up. She’s always been light on her feet and a prolific try-scorer, but this season we’ve seen her expand the areas of her game that she’s less known for: her passing and offloading are now genuine strengths, her kicking is solid and she’s strong in the contact area. In a full-strength England side, the likes of Helena Rowland and Abby Dow feel irresistible – but Kildunne might make it impossible for anyone to threaten her starting spot this campaign.

Scotland – Caity Mattinson
Mattinson declared for Scotland last year after previously winning caps for the Red Roses, and she has slowly wormed her way into the starting XV. By the World Cup she seemed like the most solid option at scrum-half, and Head Coach Bryan Easson quickly realised he could scarcely afford to bring her off.

If the Worcester co-captain keeps growing as she has done thus far in her (second) international career, she’ll enter this tournament as a senior leader in the squad and upgrade to top-end international level nine by the end of the campaign. Mattinson has all the skills you’d want from a world-class halfback: a quick pass, a strong boot and most importantly, the ability to mouth off at her forwards! I know it’s forbidden to talk about Lions XVs on non-Lions years, but Mattinson would no doubt love to establish herself in that conversation when it does come around.


Italy – Veronica Madia
Madia often sits in the shadow of the self-proclaimed “Number One Player” Beatrice Rigoni, who is undoubtedly the star of this Italy team (if you’re coming across as a fan of the men’s game – get to know Rigoni!), but in last year’s World Cup she really established herself as one of Italy’s calmest yet also flashiest players, pulling the strings from ten.

Italy’s midfield of Madia, Rigoni and Michela Silari is one of the most balanced combinations in the tournament – all three have excellent hands and the flair to run from anywhere. If Madia’s kicking game is sharp, she could play a huge role in transforming Italy into massive over-achievers. After a big win in Cardiff last year, Italy will be targeting wins over Scotland and Ireland in the coming weeks.

France – Jessy Trémoulière
Okay – this one’s a bit of a cop-out. Trémoulière’s birth certificate describes her as “experienced”, but if you’re a converted fan from men’s rugby, get to know France’s overpowered utility back. Every time Trémoulière goes to sleep, she accidentally finds herself kicking a dozen 50/22s per hour, then wakes up wondering how she does it. She’s an addict, as are all fans to watching her.

What’s so special about this tournament for her, I hear you ask? The sad thing about this Six Nations is it is Trémoulière’s last tournament as a French international. So, let’s enjoy her while we still have her, eh? It’s probably fair to say she’s the best kicker in the history of women’s rugby. It’s bizarre that France left her out of the starting 23 for last year’s semi-final against the Black Ferns – Trémoulière could have knocked the eventual champions out with a last-minute kick. One hopes France make the most of her while they can, and that they can find a similar talent in their reserves.


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