Six new stars to watch in the Women’s Six Nations

Some of the next generation could enjoy a breakthrough tournament

Harry Latham-Coyle
Tuesday 19 March 2024 15:43 GMT
Wales’ Nel Metcalfe is one of our picks ahead of the tournament
Wales’ Nel Metcalfe is one of our picks ahead of the tournament (Getty Images)

The Women’s Six Nations promises opportunity for all as the other five sides look to prevent England continuing their competition dominance.

The Red Roses continue to set the pace in women’s rugby but both Wales and France pushed them for periods of their encounters last year and will hope to make more improvements.

Scotland and Ireland enjoyed productive autumns, coming away with silverware from the second and third-tier WXV competitions and should enter this championship with belief.

With professional contracts now in place in each union, opportunities abound for young players making their way and a number could be set to star in this year’s tournament.

Here, The Independent picks out one new face from each Women’s Six Nations side who could enjoy a breakthrough campaign.

Nel Metcalfe, Wales

Metcalfe made her first Wales start at full back against New Zealand during WXV, but it is on the wing where the teenager has impressed for Gloucester-Hartpury of late.

A deceptively strong runner with excellent evasive skills, Metcalfe is part of a sizeable contingent from the unbeaten Premiership Women’s Rugby leaders crossing the border for international action and coach Ioan Cunningham hopes some of that winning experience will translate into his Welsh side.

Cunningham has plenty of back-three options with Jasmine Joyce available and Kayleigh Powell back fit, but Metcalfe could well be in the mix for a featured role at some stage during the tournament.

Teani Feleu, France

The younger sister of captain Manae Feleu, Teani received a first France call-up during last year’s Six Nations campaign but missed out on a debut. The younger Feleu is used primarily in the centres for club Grenoble but has been seen as a back-row option by Gaelle Mignot and David Ortiz at international level.

As ever with France the fight for places in the back five of the pack will be fierce but both Feleu siblings are seen as players of real potential.

The pair grew up in Wallis and Futuna, the south Pacific territory that has provided plenty of top French mens’ internationals, including the Taofifenua brothers and Yoram Moefana.

Maddie Feaunati, England

Maddie Feaunati turned down a contract in New Zealand to declare for England (Getty Images)

Any player on the radar of both the Black Ferns and the Red Roses must have something special about them, and England are believed to consider it a real coup that Feaunati has returned to join up with John Mitchell’s squad.

Mitchell is looking for a younger group to come through in the back row and the 21-year-old blindside flanker is very much in the mix for a debut early in the tournament.

England are keen to have a third lineout jumper in their pack, with Feaunati identified as having the right sort of skillset to fulfil the role in which Alex Matthews has excelled for so long. Her work-rate has also been praised – Feaunati was first spotted by assistant coach Sarah Hunter, who excelled at doing the unseen stuff as England’s glue during her record-breaking career.

Alex Stewart, Scotland

Flanker Stewart has been one of the beneficiaries of the Celtic Challenge, introduced to bridge the gap for Scottish, Irish and Welsh players between club rugby and the international stage. Just 19, the openside was a regular vice-captain of Edinburgh in the competition, a mark of her leadership qualities.

Her Corstorphine Cougars running mate Merryn Gunderson is also an uncapped inclusion in Bryan Easson’s squad, and the pair could not have a better role model to learn off than national skipper Rachel Malcolm.

With Jade Konkel-Roberts working her way back from injury, there may be back-row places available in Easson’s 23.

Eimear Corri, Ireland

A fresh era for Ireland began in the autumn with the installation of former England backs coach Scott Bemand as head coach, with the ex-scrum half immediately leading the side to a dominant WXV3 title against overmatched opposition. While there remain issues off the field to sort out, there is hope within the squad that this new start can be positive for a side with the talent to push for a third-placed finish.

Ireland will be co-captained by Edel McMahon (pictured) and Sam Monaghan (Getty Images)

The availability of their sevens stars will provide a backline boost for at least some of the tournament before they chase a medal at Paris in the summer but the pack is equally intriguing. Sam Monaghan is one of the best locks in the world but who partners her is a question for Bemand to answer with former captain Nichola Fryday retired from international rugby.

While Dorothy Wall might have the inside track, Corri emerged as an option in the autumn, surging into the squad having initially been called up as a training panellist. The Blackrock product has admitted herself that she is a work in progress having switched from the wing into the pack after injury but her development could be a real boon for Ireland.

Alessia Pilani, Italy

The vastly experienced Lucia Gai could well start the championship as Italy’s first-choice tighthead as she closes in on a 100th cap but both Sara Seye and Pilani will put the prop under pressure.

A relative late-comer to rugby union after cycling in her youth, the 25-year-old Pilani made her debut against Spain last summer and stepped into a run-on role at WXV2, and will hope to continue to make strides.

It’s a nasty start for Italy, hosting England before trips to Ireland and France, but Italy captain Elisa Giordano believes the tough test first up could energise her side. “Obviously we want to win as much as possible and confirm ourselves at a high level,” Giordano said last week. “Playing England in the first round is difficult but it is also exciting because it allows us to arrive at this prestigious event with energy.”

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