Harlequins prop Vickii Cornborough looks ahead to the first game of England's Women's Six Nations campaign against Italy with Shay Waterworth
England prop Vickii Cornborough on the first round of the Women’s Six Nations
England have dominated the Women’s Six Nations since the tournament began in 1996, winning 14 titles and 13 Grand Slams. However, last years’ triumph was a first for the Red Roses since 2012. So can they now reassert their dominance in Europe?
One player looking forward to the opening weekend is England prop Vickii Cornborough. The 27-year-old is set to win her 37th cap against Italy on Sunday, but it isn’t just rugby on the Harlequin’s mind.
“I’m looking forward to the coffee out there,” says Cornborough shortly after a high-intensity session at Bisham Abbey. “I also don’t know any Italian, which is really bad because we’ve had some Italian girls join Quins this year who have limited English skills, so I should have learnt some by now.”
Following the disappointment of the World Cup final in August, Cornborough was part of the squad which whitewashed Canada in the autumn and she’s clearly determined to keep the momentum rolling.
Cornborough says: “Because I’m known to be a ball-carrying prop, I’ve been working on my intensity and work at the breakdown. But If I want to be selected to play for this England team, my set-piece game also needs to be outstanding.”
She has played in Italy several times and she has fond memories playing with picturesque backdrops on the outskirts of Milan. However, Stadio Mirabello, just north of Bologna, will be a new venue for the Red Roses this year.
“When we travel away our biggest focus is keeping our routines the same to ensure our preparation is as good as possible, but after the game you never know what the Italians are going to serve up.”
Italy have never beaten England in the Six Nations since the tournament’s birth more than two decades ago, but Cornborough is far from complacent.
“We have no doubt that Italy will be a tough game. They can be unpredictable to play against and it will be challenging for us.
“If you look at our games against Italy over the past two years, they’ve started the matches much stronger. Something we’re looking to do is assert ourselves on the game from kick-off and bring intensity from the start.”
The Red Roses lost just one match in 2017 – the World Cup final against New Zealand – and since then they have parted with some experienced players, but England head coach Simon Middleton is excited by the young talent emerging in his squad – find out more about several of those rising stars in Rugby World’s Six Nations special.
Winning back-to-back Grand Slam titles is a clear aim for this England squad and Cornborough says: “It’s definitely on the agenda for us. It’s one thing winning the tournament but another thing retaining it, but it’s certainly something we’re looking to achieve.”
Wales freshen up for the Scots
Wales head coach Rowland Phillips has named four players without prior international experience for Friday’s Test against Scotland at Parc Eirias, Colwyn Bay – second-row Natalia John, flanker Beth Lewis, scrum-half Jade Knight and wing Hannah Bluck will all make their debuts.
Meanwhile, Scotland have named all four of their full-time professional players and they will be hoping to repeat their success of last year, when they beat Wales by a point.
Wing Megan Williams is Ireland’s sole debutant to face France while Niamh Briggs makes her return to the team after a year out with a serious injury and will start at fly-half rather than her more regular position of full-back.
The former captain will need to put in a top performance if Ireland are to win in Toulouse on Saturday against a French side boasting one of the most experienced squads in the competition and now led by openside flanker Gaëlle Hermet.
Women’s Six Nations Round One Fixtures
Friday 2 February Wales v Scotland, 6pm, Parc Eirias, Live on BBC Wales
Saturday 3 February France v Ireland, 8pm, Stade Ernest Wallon, Live on RTE
Sunday 4 February Italy v England, 5.30pm, Stadio Mirabello, Live on Sky Sports