When teacher Katy McLean told her reception class that she was going to be on television on Saturday night and that they should watch her, one of the children asked: “Are you going on X Factor?”
They know better now, for after taking time off from her day job at Bexhill Academy in Sunderland this week in order to train, McLean will be captaining England in their game against France at Twickenham. The England women’s team face France straight after the men’s match against Argentina.
This is not the first time England women have played immediately after the men, though the move should guarantee them more supporters than they might otherwise have, and, it is hoped, a knowledgeable rugby crowd who will cheer them on.
“It gives us that lift when you need it,” McLean explained, “it gives you that extra 10 or 20 per cent, when you look to see how many people have stayed. For us the biggest thing is to get people to stay there, to be loud, and be helpful, so that we can start the game well. The crowd always help with that.”
The 27-year-old Darlington Mowden Park fly-half, who has 62 caps, will lead the team as Sarah Hunter is injured, though Margaret Alphonsi returns having been out since March 2012 through injury.
But even with the Twickenham crowd behind them, England could not get the better of France in their last meeting in February, so McLean is hoping for a reverse today. “In the Six Nations they beat us in a massive game [30-20]. We had good support and it made a massive difference, but it was a really tough game.”
That was part of a frustrating season for the England women, and there is a strong sense within the squad that they need to start turning results and performances around ahead of the World Cup next year, starting today, and then against Canada on Wednesday evening.
“This is the first game in our World Cup journey,” said McLean. “For us last year was not the best, but we are looking to start with a big performance, make sure we apply what we are learning.
“We know that France are a big physical side, with a big pack and a bit of French flair, so we have got to win the physical battle early doors, give ourselves a platform to play from and attack from.
“We have got to be braver, to turn out to go and play, not just to take the safe option,” she added. “We have to get it right and get good quick ball to play with.
“The World Cup is around the corner but the focus is this game. It is all about building performances. We are at risk of writing everything off just because it is World Cup year but we must make sure that in everything we do, we are getting better.
“We need to build towards the finals, we cannot just show up in France next August. We need to prove that we are getting there.”
The England v France women’s international will be exclusively live on Sky Sports & Sky 3D as part of an unrivalled year-round commitment to women’s sport