Major teams: Narbonne, Saint-Orens
Test span: 1986-2002
Every success the women’s game in France has had over the past three decades has Nathalie Amiel’s handprint marked firmly all over it.
Her remarkable 16-year career as a French international ended in 2002 but her involvement in the national coaching set-up since has been highly influential as she’s helped the French to numerous accolades, including a third-place finish at the World Cup and a Six Nations title in 2014.
Right from the off, Amiel was set to be rugby star. Something of a child prodigy, she was playing rugby from the word go having attended the local rugby school in Capestang as a 12-year-old. While there, her skills, knowledge and potential were spotted by former France international Olivier Saisset, at the time Beziers’ head coach, and on his recommendation she was brought into the Languedoc Rugby Academy, where she was the only girl among several aspiring male players.
Incredibly, the centre made her international debut at the age of 15 against Great Britain in London in 1986. It was the start of what would be a stellar career, spanning three World Cups in 1991, 1994 and 2002 – the latter at which she captained the team. She also led her country to a Five Nations Grand Slam and was a member of the French team that won the European Championships in 1988, 1996, 1999 and 2000. Her attacking brilliance at centre terrified teams who were forced to come up with strategies to halt her enormous influence.
Unsurprisingly her 20-year club playing career was also a success and was divided between Narbonne, where she started out, and Saint-Orens, for whom she played from 1992 until her retirement in 2002.
She won 56 caps and has since coached numerous senior men’s teams, joining the French national women’s set-up in 2009 and becoming one of the lead coaches last year.