England will head into their double-header with France this month on a high having wrapped up a second successive Women’s Six Nations Grand Slam.

The Red Roses, who had won the title without playing the previous weekend after France could only draw with Scotland, ran in eight tries against Italy in Parma to secure a 15th championship clean sweep.

Although the Women’s Six Nations 2020 has been affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and won't conclude until December, there have been a number of impressive performances from players new to the test arena. 

A number of sevens players have also taken the opportunity to switch their attention to the 15s game with HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series tournaments cancelled into the new year. Ellie Kildunne, Alex Matthews and Helena Rowland all excelled for England in Italy, while Hannah Tyrrell and Brittany Hogan both appeared for Ireland.

We’ve picked out six returning and rookie players who have impressed during the tournament, and could make an even bigger splash on the road to Rugby World Cup 2021.

Morwenna Talling (England)

Talling made her England debut in Italy barely a year after her first senior appearance for Loughborough Lightning. Playing the full 80 minutes alongside the experienced Abbie Ward in the England second-row, Talling acquitted herself well and was rarely too far from the action as the visiting forwards took the game to their hosts.

As the young second-row grew in confidence, she became a willing carrier, and finished the match having made 23 metres with the ball in hand. Italy did not spend a great deal of time in the England 22, but Talling dealt with the attacks that did come her way. The 18-year-old made four tackles in Parma, one of which was dominant. She will hope to build on a promising debut when England meet France in back-to-back matches this month.

Detysha Harper (England)

England are not short on quality in the front-row, but Harper is proving to be an excellent addition. Having started her rugby journey as a number eight, and moved through the pack to the second-row and then prop, Harper is a powerful carrier of the ball. In little over 20 minutes on the pitch against Italy, the loose-head prop contributed three carries for a total of 18 metres.

Alongside Amy Cokayne and Shaunagh Brown, Harper also ensured that England retained the dominance they had enjoyed at the scrum for the opening three-quarters of the match. It was from that solid platform that Simon Middleton’s team were able to score three late tries and add some more gloss to their 54-0 victory.

Marjorie Mayans (France)

There was not much cause for French cheer in the second half of Les Bleues’ 13-13 draw against Scotland last month. But, the sight of Mayans emerging from the replacements’ bench at Scotstoun Stadium, for only her second test appearance in two-and-a-half years having focused on sevens, will have raised the hopes of France fans ahead of the Rugby World Cup 2021 Draw on 20 November.

Centre-turned-flanker Mayans responded with a typically physical display in which she contributed 15 metres with ball in hand, from three carries, and made one break as France attempted in vain to prolong the battle for the title. In defence, Mayans made nine tackles and won a turnover but could do nothing as Scotland winger Rachel Shankland scored the late try that brought Les Bleues’ 10-match winning run in the fixture to an end.

Julie Annery (France)

Annery was another French sevens star who made the switch back to 15s during the elongated Six Nations Championship. Having made an appearance as a replacement in the opening weekend defeat to England in Pau, the flanker made try-scoring starts against both Italy and Wales before the tournament was postponed.

Playing at openside, Annery put in an all-round performance against Italy in Limoges. A target at the lineout, the 25-year-old made 60 metres with ball in hand and crossed the whitewash for France’s fourth try in a 45-10 victory. Two weeks later, and playing on the opposite side of the scrum, Annery scored her side’s seventh try in a 50-0 win. She also made a mammoth 22 tackles at Cardiff Arms Park as France secured their biggest ever win in the fixture.

Dorothy Wall (Ireland)

Following cameo appearances against Scotland, Wales and England in February, Wall made her first Ireland start against Italy at Energia Park last month. Playing alongside experienced back-row players Claire Molloy and Ciara Griffin, the 20-year-old flanker made a big impact as the hosts beat the Azzurre 21-7.

Wall was part of the driving maul that resulted in Ireland’s opening try in Dublin, contributed an important carry to the move that ended in the second and packed down on the blindside of the hosts’ scrum as they earned a late penalty try. In total, Wall made 76 metres from 11 carries with ball in hand, and was dominant in defence, making 19 tackles and missing just one. The young flanker is sure to play an integral part in Ireland’s RWC 2021 qualifying campaign.

Rachel Shankland (Scotland)

As an introduction to international rugby, it was the stuff of dreams. Shankland marked her test debut with the try that helped Scotland avoid defeat against France for the first time since 2010. Jade Konkel did brilliantly to create the space for Shankland, but the 29-year-old still had plenty to do to score. The winger showed her pace as she sprinted away from three French defenders to finish in the right corner.

Shankland’s try was the highlight of an impressive maiden Scotland appearance, in which she made 47 metres with ball in hand, and contributed seven tackles in defence. Scotland are due to play Italy in December, in a match that will count towards both the Women’s Six Nations 2020 and the RWC 2021 European qualifier. It would be a surprise if Shankland was not involved.

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