The race for No.10 is on and England head coach Simon Middleton says it’s a wide-open battle to replace retired fly-half Katy Daley-Mclean in the Women's Six Nations.
England legend Daley-Mclean lifted the 2014 World Cup and won 116 caps in a storied career but retired unexpectedly in December, leaving a void at fly-half ahead of a crucial year.
The World Cup – which was scheduled to start in September – was moved back by a year last month, handing Middleton more time to settle on his preferred solution.
England’s new era starts against Scotland in Doncaster on Saturday and Zoe Harrison, 22, is the favourite after accumulating 27 caps and serving as Daley-Mclean’s understudy.
But she faces stiff competition from Meg Jones and Helena Rowland, who have 13 caps between them and are both part of GB’s sevens programme ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.
Losing Daley-Mclean also robs Middleton of one of his team leaders and the head coach is eager to see who will step into her shoes both on and off the pitch.
“On the face of it, it certainly does leave a hole because Katy is such an influential and dominant character in terms of driving the strategy on and off the field,” he said.
“Replacing Katy takes some doing and Zoe has been playing there fairly regularly for us in the 10/12 slot and Helena has been with the sevens programme.
“But we now have 12 months to help prepare those two and any others that may surface makes a big difference for us.
“We also have Meg Jones, who has come in from the sevens circuit and is a different type of ten. She’s probably not a natural ten but she suits the way Wasps play and you can see the impact she’s having in the Premier 15s.
“So, from a development point of view, it is a positive for us because it gives us a great opportunity to keep developing those players and a lot of other ones.”
England are the heavy favourites to win a third consecutive Championship in a Women’s Six Nations that has been reshaped by the pandemic this year.
Coronavirus meant staging the tournament in its usual February and March slot, adjacent to the men, was not possible and a four-week schedule has been devised as a one-off.
The six teams have been split into two pools of three and will play each other, before then facing the side from the opposite pool that finishes in the same position.
The format is not popular with everyone but Middleton says England will adjust and he is confident they can land more silverware.
“I am a bit of a traditionalist, so I would have loved to have seen it in its full format,” he said.
“But given the challenges, just to get the competition agreed and on is the main thing. We are just desperate to play and I’m sure the other nations are as well.
“We are just worried about getting to the final. We will be hugely disappointed if we are not in there, as we would for any final because that is what we want to do.
“You’ll have to look at France and think they are Pool B favourites, and it probably comes down to how much preparation the other teams can do.”
England’s final match will be broadcast live on BBC Two, while their two pool games will be available on BBC iPlayer in a shift away from Sky Sports, who had shown England’s Six Nations matches since 2017.
Middleton added: “It is massive for us. The support we get and exposure we will get is huge, so to have the BBC onboard and going mainstream for the third game is fantastic for us, really exciting.”