Setting sights on the Grand-Slam with England fly-half Zoe Harrison
It’s autumn, the leaves are falling, Boris is about to put us back into lockdown and we’re finally getting to see the deciding games of the six nations. Last night England’s men secured the title and later today the Red Roses will go for the grand slam against Italy. We caught up with Zoe Harrison to find out how she has coped with this crazy season.
“The fact that we’ve already won the six nations is great, but we want to go to Italy, put in a big performance and secure the grand slam!” Zoe tells me emphatically. The pleasantries are out of the way – it’s raining here but apparently the sun is shining on the girls in Italy – and Harrison means business. She’s soft-spoken on the phone, a world away from the spirited athlete we see on the field, but that strength of will is there just under the surface.
Once the Italy game is over there’s a short rest for the roses before they regroup to face France in back-to-back games. “It’s always a massive game, especially when you’re over in France. It’s great to be facing them again in a world cup year, they’re a top team and they’ll be a really competitive opponent”
She’s been viewed by fans of the team as Katy Daley-Mclean’s heir apparent for a good couple of years now. Regularly the alternate fly-half in the team and even starting at 12 for a run of games in a partnership that reflected Ford and Farrell for the men’s team. “It’s good to play in different position. When you’re out at 12 you feel a bit more safe and have a little bit more time to think. When I played with Katy it was great to talk through what was going on in the game to help her.”
While Zoe may well make the 10 shirt her own she’s facing competition with Helena Rowland’s return to the fifteens format, so that versatility, as well as the unwavering focus she has shown both in the white of her country and in the black and red of Saracens, suggest she is likely to be part of this teams heartbeat for many years. “It’s good to have competition for the shirt, as a team that’s what you want” She tells me, but there’s a steel in Zoe’s tone that tells me she’s going to fight for every opportunity!
This week Harrison is among the replacements, she makes it clear that she wants to be starting of course, but as we discuss it she is honest in saying that there are advantages to starting the game on the sidelines, seeing the flow and understanding how the opposition are playing so that when you join the game, you’re not only a fresh pair of legs but you are equipped with good knowledge and ideas for how to counter the team you’re facing off against.
The Premier 15s has been back underway for a few weeks now, with Harrison an ever present for Saracens, the law variations in that league to support its restart won’t be reflected in the international game, but the England ladies have been in and out of short camps for a number of weeks, so there shouldn’t be much need for adjustment. A number of players have talked about camp as a return to a little bit of normality but even there some clear changes have been made, not least the loss of roommates and the need for some distance when socialising. “I’ve lost my roommate Jess (Breach) and now I’m alone which is quite sad. I’m a person that likes to be around people rather than on my own. Some of the girls are enjoying the time to themselves but I hate it!” Of course there are still plenty of opportunities to spend time together and as is the case when any group of rugby players are together card games are still a popular way to while away the hours. There are other ways players have been entertaining themselves, both in camp and over the spring and summer in Lockdown too. For Zoe that includes making TikTok videos with her friends. “It was a good way to get through lockdown. Me and Jess are looking to do more, when we can find the time”
If you’re a keen follower of women’s rugby Harrison will likely be a player you’re already watching, but if she continues along the path she’s started, she’ll be a name on every rugby fan’s lips before too long!