Clash of the titans: Rivalry reignites as Saracens take on Harlequins in Premier 15s

Saracens’ Hannah Botterman and Harlequins’ Vickii Cornborough discuss this Sunday’s clash

Sarah Rendell
Saturday 11 December 2021 15:00
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<p>Hannah Botterman is ready for battle on Sunday</p>

Hannah Botterman is ready for battle on Sunday

Just a few short weeks ago Hannah Botterman and Vickii Cornborough were celebrating England’s 18th consecutive victory together following clinical and dominant autumn internationals displays.

Two wins over New Zealand backed up with subsequent victories over Canada and the USA ended the Red Roses’ 2021 international calendar perfectly. But camaraderie turns to rivalry on Sunday as Botterman’s Saracens take on Cornborough’s Harlequins in the Premier 15s, which will be live on BBC iPlayer.

Not only are the stars battling for a win over old foes but they are also competing to impress Red Roses head coach Simon Middleton. Botterman and Cornborough play at loosehead prop and so joust for the starting England shirt against one another. With the World Cup under a year away, Cornborough tells The Independent it will be in the back of her mind but that positional competition is key for England’s development.

“Having an awareness of your opposition, we’re lucky enough in the Red Roses to have an amazing strength in depth. That makes me excited to come up against my Red Roses teammates especially,” she says.

“The competition is really important to make sure we are the best players we can be. Looking forward to next year, selection is going to be really important going into Six Nations and the World Cup. This weekend is just another opportunity for us to go head-to-head and showcase the talent we’ve got.”

Away from the international stakes at play, Saracens will have a chance to hit back at their rivals from the last time they faced one another. That fateful afternoon was last season’s final where Quins got their hands on their first title to deny Sarries’ third consecutive trophy.

Vickii Cornborough has been impressive for Harlequins this season

Revenge may be the first thing in fans’ minds but Botterman says the players have moved on from the devastating loss.

“For us we were coming off the back of two consecutive Prem titles so it [the loss] wasn’t particularly sweet,” the 22-year-old says. “But I also think we know in ourselves, the way we played that game, we didn’t deserve to win it. I think a lot of this has been looking at ourselves and not necessarily [about being] hurt by the past.

“There’s always a fierce rivalry between us and Quins and I don’t think that will ever go. Whoever wins or loses there’s always a point to prove. I wouldn’t say we’re hurting from [the final] but there’s some extra fire going into it.”

The margins between the two league giants are so narrow any error could be crucial to the outcome of the match, which will be hosted at Stone X Stadium. Mauling tries in the 20/21 final ended up being the difference in the 25-17 game.

When speaking about where the match will be won and lost, Botterman, whose club are unbeaten this season, says: “Notoriously in these games it has been won within the forwards. It tends to be won or lost in that forward pack. Not saying our backs don’t do anything!

“There’s a famous saying: ‘the forwards will decide who wins the match and the backs decide by how much.’ That couldn’t be any truer this weekend.”

Hannah Botterman continues to dominate with Saracens

Cornborough adds that the set-piece will be the source of momentum: “Set-piece is hugely important. Without a dominant set-piece platform you don’t have the springboard to open up the rest of the game. There’s definitely a role there for the likes of myself to really deliver at scrum and lineout time.

“Looking at ourselves and Saracens, the aerial battle will be really important. It’s about playing in the right areas and it’s about playing the smartest rugby in the right areas of the field.”

The win, pride and international competition may be on the line but that’s exactly what brings the zing to this intense match-up.

Saracens and Quins have been the dominant forces in the Premier 15s though the rest of the league are catching up with them. But every encounter since the league’s formation in 2017 has been a thriller and has added to the progression of women’s rugby in recent times.

Cornborough sums up the feelings surrounding the game perfectly: “These are the kinds of games I live for. You don’t want to be playing the games where you go in and you know exactly how the game is going to pan out.

“You want to be at the forefront of the absolute battle and you have the 50/50, which could go either way. You have to fight for every metre. Every point. I’m really looking forward to doing that this weekend.”

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