England Women head coach Simon Middleton is relishing the prospect of seeing his side run out at Twickenham Stadium in their final Quilter International of 2018 as they face Ireland on Saturday.
The Red Roses head into the game off the back of a 57-5 win over USA at Allianz Park and a 27-19 victory over Canada at Castle Park in Doncaster.
Although the more experienced England players have played at the Home of England Rugby before, and some in county games or BUCS finals, Middleton believes Saturday will be a big development opportunity for a number of players. "The attitude has been outstanding."
“It’s huge. Most players regard playing at Twickenham as one of the pinnacles of their career if they ever have a chance to play there.
“It just gives us such a great opportunity to let some of those players experience at a very early stage of their careers what the biggest stage looks like.”
A win against Ireland would make it seven wins from eight in 2018 for England and Middleton thinks that success has been driven by the character of the squad.
“I’ve been really pleased so far and the attitude has been outstanding in all the sessions and time we’ve had together.
“We’ve had a couple of good focus points this week, but a real priority has been that when we get into the 22, we are more clinical.”
This November has seen Middleton hand a number of players their first England caps, with Ellena Perry, Sarah Beckett, Tatyana Heard, Carys Williams, Claudia Macdonald and Lucy Attwood all becoming Red Roses.
There have also been a number of players that have built on their limited international experience with impressive performances from the likes of Shaunagh Brown, Catherine O’Donnell, Zoe Harrison and Hannah Botterman, who are all still in single figures for caps.
“There are not that many senior players left!” joked the England head coach.
She may be the current England captain— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) November 21, 2018
But it all began at Gateshead Panthers
Watch @sarah_hunter8 and the #RedRoses take on @IrishRugby at Twickenham this Saturday. Free entry after the men’s game: https://t.co/xzDZ0j2T2F pic.twitter.com/J8NJ1UeinI
“There is a great camaraderie between the players from playing against each other in the Tyrrells Premier 15s, so there is a really healthy respect before the players even landed together as a group.
“We’re working hard off the field to create a culture that is first and foremost performance driven, where everybody has a voice and people feel they are comfortable to step forward, be leaders in the group and share their opinions in the knowledge that they will be heard and valued.
“That has been the beauty of this series for us and has allowed us to get those young players on the field, get some experience and Saturday will be the next step on the ladder for a lot of them.”
From 1 January the Red Roses become a full-time professional squad as part of the RFU’s commitment to the growth of women’s rugby.
The 28 contracts will be supplemented by seven Elite Player Squad (EPS) agreements, meaning a total squad of 35 for the England coaching staff to work with on a day-to-day basis.
Planning has been well underway since the announcement in September and Middleton believes it is a step that can help them in their aim of being the number one side in the world.
“I’m really pleased for the girls because they are professional in everything but name and have been for a long time, so it’s great to see them get what they deserve.
“Maybe there has been a perception that England were slipping behind, but it was just a case that when we took this step that it was the right step and I think this propels us forward again.
“I don’t think we could have been any better supported by the RFU in terms of the women’s game – I don’t think any women’s sport in the world gets the support we have.”
Photo credit: John Ashton