Find out who to keep an eye out for in the 2015 women’s championship

THE Women’s Six Nations runs concurrently with the men’s championship and ahead of kick-off on Friday 6 February, Rugby World has asked the captains of each team to pick out the players to watch over the coming weeks…

Abbie Scott

Fresh face: Lock Abbie Scott

Tamara Taylor is leading England as they look to build on last year’s Women’s World Cup triumph by winning the Six Nations. The lock picks out Bristol centre Amber Reed as an exciting prospect in the backs, but in terms of a new face in the squad she points to her second-row partner at Darlington Mowden Park Sharks Abbie Scott. “She’s one of the new-age second-rows who’s very athletic,” explains Taylor. “Her biggest strength is her strength, in mind as well as body. She’s very determined as a person and as an athlete she’s good in the lineout, strong in the loose and a good ball-carrier.”

After leading the team to a Grand Slam and third place at the World Cup in 2014, Gaelle Mignot continues as captain – but she didn’t want to name names when it came to players to watch in a squad that features eight uncapped players. “Everyone’s important, so you should keep an eye on all the new players in the group,” says the hooker.

Safi N'Diaye

Full force: Safi N’Diaye takes on the Welsh defence in last year’s Six Nations. Photo: Huw Evans Agency

However, new forwards coach Jean-Michel Gonzalez was happy to step up to the plate. As well as Safi N’Diaye, the No 8 among the nominees for IRB Women’s Player of the Year, and winger Caroline Boujard, Gonzalez also points to Camille Cabalou. He expects Cabalou to comfortably fill the boots of stalwart fly-half Sandrine Agricole, who retired after the World Cup. “She’s a girl for the future,” he says. “She played with the U20s and is now in the senior XVs group and she has a big future.”

Another IRB Player of the Year nominee, Niamh Briggs, leads Ireland this season. A raft of players have retired since the World Cup, which included that win over New Zealand, so there are 12 new faces in the squad, “all with different attributes” according to their captain.

The full-back struggles to select just one name from the dozen but highlights Sene Naoupu, whose husband George plays in the back row for Connacht. The New Zealand-born centre/fly-half qualified to play for Ireland on residency last year and Briggs says: “She’s a very good player and brings a bit of flair, something different to the squad.”

Niamh Briggs

Mind the gap: Niamh Briggs cuts through Italy at the Aviva Stadium last year. Photo: Inpho

The Italians beat Wales and Scotland during last season’s championship to finish fourth in the table and this year’s Six Nations represents the first step on the road to the 2017 World Cup. England, France and Ireland have already qualified thanks to their finishing positions in WRWC 2014, while the two best performing teams out of Italy, Scotland and Wales over the 2015 and 2016 Six Nations will qualify for the next global showpiece.

Flanker Silvia Gaudino is well aware of what is at stake and she is quick to name Beatrice Rigoni, 19, as one to watch this season. Gaudino says: “She’s a very young player who started with the squad last year and I think she will do very well. She can play outside-half or centre, and has great vision and great defence skills.”

Scotland conceded 261 points and scored just five in losing all of their 2014 Six Nations games, but improvements have been made in their off-field structures and they have played three warm-up games leading up to this year’s championship. “We’re the best prepared we’ve ever been for the Six Nations in terms of game time,” says captain Tracy Balmer, “and as a squad we’ll have more contact time during the Six Nations. We feel like we’re being taken more seriously now.”

Mhairi Grieve

Fine nine: Mhairi Grieve made her Scotland debut against Italy last November

As for the talent in the squad, Balmer pinpoints the scrum-halves. “Mhairi Grieve is a really exciting young player and it’ll be interesting to see what she can do. She’s got a lot of confidence, which is good for a nine. She’s got really good vision and can spot gaps, has quick feet and makes good decisions under pressure.

Sarah Law is the other nine and they’re two quite different players. They should spur each other on to put in exciting performances.”

Keira Bevan

Teenage dream: Keira Bevan

The Welsh also had a disappointing Six Nations last year, winning only one game, but captain Rachel Taylor believes they have a lot of young talent coming through. She is expecting big things from lock Shona Powell Hughes, who made her debut in 2010 and has played in two World Cups but is still only 23, and name checks Kerin Lake, who is back playing after taking time away from rugby to start a family.

In terms of bolters, though, the name that comes up is 17-year-old scrum-half Keira Bevan, who is competing with Amy Day for the No 9 jersey and is set to make her debut during the Six Nations. Taylor says: “She’s come through the sevens programme and has really developed. She’s a confident youngster – a typical scrum-half in character! She’s definitely got a big future.”

Find out how England are juggling both their XVs and sevens goals in our exclusive interview with Sarah Hunter and Natasha Hunt in the March 2015 issue of Rugby World – on sale now. Click here to find out how to download the digital edition.