Helen Nelson of Scotland and Helena Rowland of England go head-to-head as stand-offs in the Women’s Six Nations as not only club-mates but also house-mates.
The Scotland 10 and England counterpart meet Saturday afternoon in Doncaster but both play for Loughborough Lightning in the English Premier 15s – the Scot usually moves over to inside centre – and they also share a flat with three other team-mates.
And somewhat surprisingly it’s the 21-year-old Rowland who is the mum of the house, according to Nelson.
‘I’m excited for the banter on the pitch’
“She is the youngest but we always have a laugh in the house about how she’s the mature one out of all of us,” says Nelson. “She’s got a mature head on her.
“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.
“We had a bit of chat about it last week, saying it would be good fun if we are playing 10 against each other. Obviously, I play outside of Helena at 12 when we’re at Lightning and we’ve got a really good partnership, so I’m excited to go up against her and have a bit of banter on the pitch about it.”
Nelson is one of six Scots who play in the English league and are full-time, compared to all the 23 on the English side, but the 26-year-old from Inverness has been able to pass on inside knowledge of the opposition.
‘They’re human and we’re getting better and better’
“I think in the past we’ve struggled in those kinds of matches against England and France to believe in ourselves,” she said. “So we are just going to take all that belief and all that work that we’ve put in during the last few months, and hopefully have a good game.
“For me, 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.
“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.
“We’re building and our belief in the squad is getting there, match on match. I think we just need to concentrate on ourselves, focus on our performance, and that gap that has been there will start closing, 100 percent.”
There is no question that despite the lack of competitive rugby for many of the women coming into this truncated championship, this team is as well-prepared as any in Scottish colours.
‘The support has been incredible’
“Although we haven’t had international matches, SRU are supporting us more than ever at the moment in terms of putting camps on for us and giving us that time together as a squad,” said Nelson. “The support we’ve had this past week in camp has been incredible.
“Although it’s been frustrating that we haven’t had matches, that’s due to the current environment with Covid. We have had to adapt and roll with the changes, but again, that just makes us more resilient and more tight-knit as a squad.
“Some of us have had competitive games in England. And the players here in Scotland have been getting together three or four times a week.
“It makes us thankful when we do get the opportunity. We’re 100 per cent raring to go for Saturday.”
More focus helps with the buzz
The women are enjoying the extra focus on them as a result of these games being scheduled after the men’s championship has finished.
“We got told before we came into camp that there might be a bit more media attention, and there’s been a camera at every single training session,” she added.
“It’s funny that little things like that do make a difference, and it just feels like social media, like the buzz around the tournament, is huge this year.
“It makes us as players feel really excited for it. We just want to get going and hopefully put out some good performances that our fans can get behind, and just make the women’s game grow more and more.”