CASTRES, FRANCE – There are, I as type, less than seven days to go before the curtain goes up on what has to be one of the most eagerly anticipated sporting competitions of 2015. On Friday, February 6 at 6pm (GMT), the Women’s Six Nations kicks off in Italy as they welcome Ireland to Stadio Mario Lodigiani.
The women’s game is in the spotlight like never before. Memories of the thrilling 2014 World Cup are still fresh in the minds of players, fans and the media, and this year’s Six Nations – on paper at least – looks set to be the best yet.
Every nation is fielding an exciting blend of old heads and fresh blood, but Scotland captain Tracy Balmer can’t wait for that opening whistle to blow at Stade Henri Desgranges in Nantes on February 7.
“We’re really confident this year,” she told Rugby Wrap Up. “We’ve had three tough, competitive games leading up in to the Six Nations tournament and we’ve improved our performance each time. We managed to score a two tries against a really strong Nomads team, so we’re really excited.
“We’ve proved to ourselves we can score some tries and get some points so were looking to do that to everyone else and get some tries scored in the Six Nations.”
Balmer is breezy about the opening fixture of the competition against France on the reigning champions’ home turf. “It’s so close to call between the teams now and I think coming off the back of a World Cup, a few of the teams have had a quite a lot of retirements, there’s a lot of shuffling going on with new players coming up – I know that the France team have a few new caps coming into the squad, so they’ll be a new squad.”
The tighthead added: “We know it’s always a tough physical encounter when we go and play France – and when it’s France away we know we’ve got the crowd to contend with as well. They get a lot of support, good loud supporters at their matches. That can only be a bit bigger since the World Cup was there. We know to expect a really good game and it’s going to be really exciting for us to be in that environment, so we’re really looking forward to it.”
As eager as Balmer and her side will be to get their 2015 away campaign up and running, the prospect of seeing the side take to the pitch for the first time at their new home of Broadwood is a mouthwatering one – and Balmer feels the same way.
“Yes! Definitely. It’s really nice this season to have a secure home base that we’re going to be playing at.” Turning their new home into ‘Fortress Broadwood’ is clearly an ambition, and Balmer is aware the audience is growing as the interest in women’s rugby rises further.
When asked if that multiplies the pressure to perform, Balmer said: “I think so. It means we really want to prove to people out there that women’s rugby is of a really good standard.
“As a player, you want to make sure that, now that there is more interest, you are keeping that interest, so you want to put on really good performances, you want to put on really competitive games so that it keeps people wanting more and surprising them about the level the women are at.”
She added: “The profile is being raised more and more each season for women’s rugby and it only going to raise even more now the World Cup has been brought forward a year. People will, hopefully, be remember the buzz of the back of the old World Cup.
“As a player it’s a really exciting time to be involved in women’s rugby – I just wish I was a little bit younger so I could benefit a bit later on!”
As for Balmer herself, what does it mean to lead Scotland? “Words can’t describe it” she said.
“It’s a mixture of pride, nerves, passion. I strived for a long time to get into international rugby so then to be named captain was the icing on the cake. I cherish it and don’t want to let go.”
Women’s Six Nations opening weekend fixtures:
Friday February 6
Italy v Ireland Stadio Mario Lodigiani (kick off 6pm GMT)
Saturday February 7
France v Scotland Stade Henri Desgrange (kick off 1pm GMT)
Sunday February 8
Wales v England St Helen’s (kick off 2.30pm GMT)
Images courtesy of Scottish Rugby
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