SCOTLAND stand-off Helen Nelson knows all about Helena Rowland, her opposite number for England in this weekend’s Six Nations championship opener in Doncaster [Saturday @ 3pm]. She has done her analysis on when the 21-year-old is shaping to kick, or ready to pass, or looking to run – and she even knows what the 21-year-old likes to eat for breakfast.
Mind you, it helps that the pair are housemates in Loughborough, where they also play their club rugby together.
“There are five of us in the house who all play for Loughborough Lightning,” explains the Scottish playmaker. “There’s also Rhona Lloyd (the Scotland wing), who unfortunately isn’t available this weekend, Daleaka Menin who plays for Canada, and Lizzie Goulden who is a Kiwi. Helena is the youngest but we have a laugh about how she’s the mature one out of all of us.
“We had a bit of chat about it last week, saying it would be good fun if we are playing 10 against each other, so it’s really exciting [that it is now going to happen],” Nelson added. “I play outside of Helena at centre when we’re at Lightning and we’ve got a really good partnership, so I’m really looking forward to going up against her and having a bit of banter on the pitch about it.
“I would say we’re quite similar in terms of both appearing calm on the pitch – we might not be on the inside but outwardly we both appear quite calm.”
With nine Lightning players across the two squads involved in this match – five English (would be six but captain Sarah Hunter is injured) and four Scots – there should be plenty of bragging rights up for grabs, although the history of this fixture means that the parameters of what success and failure looks like are slightly skewered.
For the visitors, keeping the score below 50 and getting a few points of their own would represent significant progress on the last two years when they lost 53-0 and 80-0.
Scotland will draw confidence from having secured a 13-13 draw against France, another nation who has inflicted some serious pain in the recent past, in their only match during the last 12 months back in October, but they know they face a step-up in intensity here, and won’t be helped by the fact that Scotland’s home-based players – 16 out of this weekend’s match-day 23 – have had no domestic rugby in the last year.
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For her part, Nelson – who kicked eight points against France, including a touchline conversion to square it with five minutes to go – insists that her own experiences of playing club rugby south of the border in the Allianz Premier 15s league gives her belief that the visitors can make a game of this.
“For me, personally, playing against these girls week-in and week-out, I know they have weaknesses – I know they are not all world-class all the time,” she said. “I think it is easy to put England on a pedestal at times when they are out on the pitch, but they’re human at the end of the day, and we’re getting better and better.
“It is just about instilling confidence in us. I do now know the English girls a bit better so if any of my team-mates come and ask: ‘How does this person do X, Y or Z, then I can say this is one of their weaknesses’.
“Breaking it down is the way forward because talking about England as a whole squad can become intimidating. If you break it up player by player, and match them up with our girls, we are up there individually when you look at the squads.
“It is about not focusing too much on the English if that makes sense. If we focus on our performance then that gap will 100 percent start closing.
“Although it’s been frustrating that we haven’t had matches due to the current environment with Covid, we have been able to adapt and roll with the changes, and it just makes us more resilient and more tight-knit as a squad.
“And it makes us thankful when we do get the opportunity, so we’re 100 percent raring to go for Saturday.”