Some of Europe’s best players will take the field this weekend as the Women’s Six Nations 2022 gets underway in Edinburgh, Dublin and Grenoble.
England are again the team to beat, but there is reason for optimism for the chasing pack as a huge year for women’s rugby continues with the five-week tournament.
So, as preparations intensify ahead of the opening weekend, and fans put together their fantasy teams, we take a look at six players we are looking forward to seeing in action between now and 30 April.
Ball ripped, tackle burst, 35 metre sprint = TRY TIME!— TikTok Women's Six Nations (@Womens6Nations) April 17, 2021
A great finish from @CyrielleBanet as the winger scores just before half-time for Les Bleus. #WomensSixNations #IREvFRA pic.twitter.com/vVZx1h8jCr
Cyrielle Banet (France)
Try-scorers do not come much more prolific than Les Bleues winger Banet, who touched down on her test debut in November 2017 and then her first Women’s Six Nations appearance three months later.
A near constant threat to defences, Banet scored twice against Ireland during last season’s shortened Championship to take her tournament tally to 10 tries in only 11 matches.
Banet heads into this year’s Championship in fine form, too, having helped Les Bleues to back-to-back victories against the Black Ferns in November, scoring twice in the first of those.
As they go in search of a first title since 2018, Les Bleues and Banet may feel they have a point to prove following last season’s narrow final defeat to England. Defence coaches, you’ve been warned.
Nichola Fryday (Ireland)
All eyes will be on Dublin on Saturday as Ireland attempt to move on from their Rugby World Cup 2021, playing in 2022, qualification disappointment under a new coach and captain.
Exeter Chiefs second-row Fryday has been handed the captain’s armband for the Championship, a sign of both her recent form and growing influence in the squad.
Fryday made her test debut against Canada in 2016 and has since become a mainstay of the Irish forward pack, putting in a Player of the Match performance as her team ended 2021 with a 20-10 defeat of the USA in November.
The 26-year-old moved to England with the Chiefs following that match and has made an immediate impact, helping Susie Appleby’s side challenge for a place in the Premier 15s play-offs.
Sadia Kabeya (England)
“Sadia Kabeya is probably one of the most naturally talented athletes I've ever had the joy of playing alongside, her ability as a rugby player is phenomenal.”
High praise indeed, especially when it comes from the captain of England’s first opponents, Scotland. Rachel Malcolm knows Kabeya well, the pair are Loughborough Lightning team-mates, and she could not be more effusive about her potential.
England coach Simon Middleton is also a fan, having handed the flanker her test debut against Canada at Twickenham Stoop last November.
Kabeya subsequently started the win against the USA the following weekend and her performances in the Premier 15s have put her in the mix to earn a Women’s Six Nations debut this month.
Jade Konkel (Scotland)
Having missed the Women’s Six Nations 2021 as she completed her training to become a firefighter, Konkel has since returned to the Scotland back-row with a bang.
An ever-present as Bryan Easson’s side finished second at September’s RWC 2021 Europe Qualifier and then secured their passage to New Zealand via the Final Qualification Tournament, her physicality on both sides of the ball is integral to how Scotland want to play.
Konkel’s last Championship appearance came at the end of 2020, as she helped Scotland to an historic 13-13 draw against France in Glasgow.
“It’s brilliant to have her back, both on and off the pitch,” Malcolm said. “For any team to have a player like that to bring in and get that go-forward, it gives you an amazing attacking platform.”
Michela Sillari (Italy)
Italy head into this year’s Championship hoping to maintain the momentum they built up in winning the RWC 2021 Europe Qualifier in Parma last September.
No one contributed more to that success than Michela Sillari, who notched 27 points across the Azzurre’s three matches, including a try in each of the victories against Scotland and Spain.
Sillari and her distinctive scrum cap have been a mainstay in the Italy midfield for the last decade, and her centre partnership with Beatrice Rigoni will be pivotal to how Andrea di Giandomenico’s side fare this year.
The high point of the 29-year-old’s Women’s Six Nations career came three years ago, when she kicked 31 points to help Italy finish second in the standings behind England, the only team to beat them in that year’s Championship.
Sisilia Tuipulotu (Wales)
Tuipulotu has enjoyed a meteoric rise through the ranks having earned a retainer contract with Wales only two years after taking up rugby properly.
It should, perhaps, come as little surprise that the 18-year-old is talented though, given she has family ties to male stars Taulupe Faletau, Carwyn Tuipulotu and Billy and Mako Vunipola.
Her performances in the Premier 15s for Gloucester-Hartpury caught the attention of Wales coach Ioan Cunningham – who has described her potential as “unbelievable” – and she made her senior debut at second-row in a non-cap match against the USA Falcons earlier this month.
Anticipation for Tuipulotu’s test debut is understandably building ahead of this season’s Championship.
“She is going to be amazing,” her Gloucester-Hartpury club-mate Zoe Aldcroft said. “She’s so powerful, so strong, there’s no stopping her. I’m really excited to see her at the Six Nations.”