England’s Six Nations campaign showing strength in depth ahead of Women’s World Cup

Wingers Lydia Thompson and Sarah McKenna accounted for five of the Red Roses’ 12 tries against Italy

Paul Eddison
Thursday 21 April 2022 14:30
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Lydia Thompson has unfinished business when it comes to the World Cup but in this Red Roses team, the biggest challenge might be making it onto the plane.

The 30-year-old is one of the superstars of the women’s game and marked her first appearance of the TikTok Women’s Six Nations with a hat-trick against Italy.

But even after the broken leg suffered by flyer Abby Dow, Thompson still finds herself in arguably the most competitive spot in the England squad.

Sevens standout Heather Cowell and the prolific Jess Breach have impressed when given a chance, while the likes of Sarah McKenna, Ellie Kildunne are also options in the back three.

Still, it is hard to see England coach Simon Middleton overlooking Thompson, with her unrivalled combination of experience and finishing ability, having also been nominated for World Player of the Year in 2017.

That was the year Thompson scored a wonder try in the World Cup final, a game England eventually lost to New Zealand.

She was part of the team that lifted the trophy in 2014, when still only 22-years-old, but injury cut short her campaign.

Reflecting on her relationship with the World Cup ahead of England’s TikTok Women’s Six Nations clash against Ireland on Sunday, she said: “2014, seeing my name on the sheet to be part of the squad, I was so young and really didn’t expect it. It was an amazing thing to read and to go out there but I got injured in the pool stages.

“Watching the World Cup final was probably one of my favourite games ever because I knew how much it meant to each and every player on that pitch, following their journeys and playing and training with the likes of Sophie Hemming, Kat Merchant, Maggie Alphonsi, the players who then retired after that.

“It was one of those games that showed how much of a legend they are.

“To go out and get that opportunity in 2017 and come so close was hard. It was really hard to be honest because you give everything, the whole year, all your decisions, all your choices to be the best you can be for those games and that final and the 80 minutes.

“It was hard but we have learned so much from it, we’ve reflected on it and we are where we are because of it.

“This World Cup I just feel optimism and excitement at how we are playing. I love the tempo we’re playing at and we’ve got a fantastic group of girls and an amazing team. So there is just a lot of excitement around this World Cup.”

The Red Roses are currently on a run of 21 successive victories and are miles out in front as the world’s best team.

Only France have kept them close on that run, with Le Crunch in Bayonne set to decide the TikTok Women’s Six Nations title.

And for Thompson, one of the veterans in the back three, simply being in the conversation for a starting role has forced her to dig deep.

She said: “There is such a good calibre of players, particularly in the back three.

“You just think ‘Wow’ at what those players can do, how young they are and what they have already achieved. Abby’s accolades rightly so, are incredible for such a young player. I think that is a really good sign as to where we at as a country that we have such amazing athletes performing week in, week out for their clubs, playing really competitive rugby and causing headaches for the selection for the coaches.

“I’ve definitely been pushed and challenged and that is what I want. It’s really exciting and I feel really honoured to still be in the room and on the paddock with them.”

Where the likes of Dow and Breach have spent the majority of their careers as professionals, Thompson has seen both sides of the coin, having broken into the England team when still an amateur.

The Worcester Warriors flyer studied occupational therapy and worked as part of the NHS, before focusing on rugby full-time.

So when the pandemic began, Thompson offered up her services, even if she was not eventually required.

While rugby has taken priority, her previous career has not been forgotten.

She added: “When I started playing rugby, we were amateurs and I was lucky enough to be able to do my degree in occupational therapy, which was amazing. I worked in the NHS up until the 2014 World Cup.

“It was at that point that I had to make the decision between rugby or full-time employment. I decided to challenge and see how far I could get with rugby.

“Between the 2014 and 2017 World Cups, I balanced a bit of part-time occupational therapy. Since professional contracts have been out in rugby, I haven’t pulled on the green trousers.

“I’ve just done some continued learning to keep my skills up. When the Covid call came out, of course I put my name out. But I’m not really an acute occupational therapist, my background is more in mental health.

“So I wasn’t needed but it was important to recognise that if I was needed, I’d be happy to help. It’s definitely a career I would advocate and occupational therapists are amazing.”

When it comes to her post-playing career, Thompson is not yet sure what her plans will be, whether they involve rugby or occupational therapy.

The first priority is making it four TikTok Women’s Six Nations titles in a row, and ensuring that her third World Cup campaign is a successful one.

The TikTok Women’s Six Nations is more accessible than ever before. To find out how you can watch the Women’s Championship visit: womens.sixnationsrugby.com/tv/

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