The Women’s Six Nations 2021 gets underway on Saturday when Scotland travel to Doncaster to take on defending champions England.
Later on Saturday France host Wales in Vannes, while Ireland and Italy wait to make their bow in the new-look format in round two.
Ahead of the opening weekend, we take a look at six players who could light up this year’s Championship.
Emily Scarratt (England)
No woman has scored more points for England than Emily Scarratt and she will arguably be more influential than ever during this year’s Championship.
Katy Daley-Mclean’s retirement, and the relative inexperience of the contenders to fill her number 10 jersey, will mean Scarratt’s test-match nous will be invaluable to Simon Middleton’s side.
Scarratt averaged 11 points per match during the Women’s Six Nations 2021, as she ran in two tries and converted 21 of England’s 34 scores. The centre also broke five tackles and racked up an impressive 376 metres with ball in hand.
Helena Rowland has played alongside Scarratt at Loughborough Lightning this season and describes the World Rugby Women’s 15s Player of the Year 2019 as a calming influence in midfield.
“She's very methodical,” Rowland said. “It just gives you so much confidence knowing that she's outside with the chat she gives.”
Laure Sansus (France)
Having played four times during France’s Women’s Six Nations 2016 campaign, Laure Sansus had to wait almost four years to make her fifth Championship appearance.
Sansus, recovered from the injuries that hampered her development, seized her opportunity against England last February, scoring her side’s sole try in a 19-13 defeat.
The scrum-half went on to cross the whitewash in France’s 45-10 victory against Italy six days later and followed that up with two tries as Wales were beaten 50-0 on 23 February, 2020.
Sansus’ impact on Les Bleues has been such that the mercurial Pauline Bourdon has been shifted to fly-half to accommodate her. “She’s been through a lot in her life,” France captain Gaëlle Hermet said.
“She’s come back from injury so she’s showed that she can really give it her all and go for it.”
Beibhinn Parsons (Ireland)
Beibhinn Parsons was 12 days short of her 17th birthday when she made her test debut as a replacement against the USA in November, 2018.
Two appearances, and a try, followed in the Women’s Six Nations 2019, but it was during last year’s Championship that the winger truly announced herself on the international stage.
Parsons was only 18, and still at school, when she scored a stunning try in each of Ireland’s back-to-back Championship victories against Scotland and Wales last February.
She ruled herself out of contention for the England match in round three in order to study for exams, but returned for the victory over Italy in October and will be a key attacking weapon for Adam Griggs’ side this month.
Manuela Furlan (Italy)
Restricted to only two appearances in last season’s Championship due to a torn labrum in her left shoulder, Manuela Furlan is fit to captain Italy into the Women’s Six Nations 2021.
The full-back, who is preparing to feature in her 13th Championship, has a wealth of test experience and played a pivotal role in the Azzurre’s second-place finish in 2019.
Furlan provided a smart support line to score a memorable try against France in the final match of the Women’s Six Nations two years ago.
The try, Italy’s fourth of the afternoon, not only put a seal on a 31-12 victory but provided the bonus point that her side needed to leap-frog Les Bleues into second place in the standings.
Despite only seeing 109 minutes of action in last year’s Championship, Furlan contributed 14 carries to the Azzurre cause, making 92 metres in the process. She is sure to lead by example throughout this campaign.
Forwards show their strength 💪— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) May 6, 2020
Scotland push Japan’s defence all the way and skipper Rachel Malcolm grounds the ball for our fourth try of the match.
Watch the rest of the action on Facebook & YouTube. pic.twitter.com/32wfzPeEHp
Rachel Malcolm (Scotland)
A Scotland youth hockey international, Rachel Malcolm’s ascent in rugby has been a swift one since she first picked up an oval ball six years ago.
Given her brothers, Donald and James, both represented their country at age-grade level it should perhaps come as no surprise that Rachel has achieved so much in such little time.
Having made her test debut in a Rugby World Cup 2017 qualifier against Spain, she took on the captaincy ahead of the 2019-20 season.
Malcolm played all-but 20 minutes of Scotland’s three matches during last year’s Championship, proving effective on both sides of the ball. She contributed 36 carries to attack, while making 41 tackles in defence — missing none.
Comfortable across the back-row, the Loughborough Lightning player will be particularly important to Scotland during a Championship in which they will be without Jade Konkel.
“I personally feel really positive going into the Championship,” Malcolm said. “We’ve had a huge amount of support from our union which has been brilliant.”
Jasmine Joyce (Wales)
Followers of this season’s Premier 15s won’t need reminding of the attacking threat that Wales winger Jasmine Joyce possesses.
Joyce has been a star in an otherwise frustrating campaign for Bristol Bears, using her searing pace to score 12 tries — including a hat-trick against Exeter Chiefs in January.
A member of the Great Britain squad that finished fourth at Rio 2016, Joyce has also represented Wales on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series and at the Commonwealth Games 2018.
Her Women’s Six Nations debut came during a narrow defeat to Scotland in February, 2017 and her sole Championship try to date put the seal on a 24-5 win over Ireland two years later.
Joyce, who made 104 metres with ball in hand during just 147 minutes on the pitch during last year’s Championship, will be confident of adding to that score over the next three weeks.
“She’s on fire at the moment,” Wales captain Siwan Lillicrap said. “She’s been on fire all season actually and she’s just got that out-and-out pace, and is an absolute finisher.”