RAF officer Amy Cokayne is hoping for an England Women’s TikTok Six Nation take-off – to help prove the Red Roses’ World Cup heartbreak has been consigned to history.
Cokayne and the rest of Simon Middleton’s side face Scotland at Newcastle in their first outing since the devastating loss to New Zealand in November.
It will be an emotional afternoon, with co-captain Sarah Hunter calling time on her career after 141 England appearances.
But for the England hooker – whose full name of Amy Victoria Fiona Cokayne gives away her father’s love of Aston Villa – getting back on the pitch is the perfect way to focus on the future, not the past.
Cokayne said: “We had a review camp after the World Cup, which involved no rugby, so that this is about a new group, a new focus and a new cycle for the next World Cup.
“I was always going to do one more cycle because the opportunity of having a home World Cup coming up was something that would be pretty tough to miss.”
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At 26, Flight Lieutenant Cokayne has already travelled the globe, growing up in New Zealand before returning to the UK and embarking on her Services career.
That is on hold for now with a release from the RAF for her to take up a full-time rugby contract but Cokayne plans on a return to the ranks when she hangs up her boots and admits the blue uniform and white shirt represent all her values.
Cokayne, whose sporting role models were Kelly Holmes and Serena Williams – “she was unapologetically herself while completely dominating her sport, and that was amazing” – does not hide her sense of national pride.
She said: “I joined the Air Force in 2017 and it helped my rugby to have a separate career.
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“Now the professional contract gives me stability, so that I know I can pay my mortgage but I'm looking forward to going back into the Air Force when I retire.
“My primary role is in the police branch. When we send an asset anywhere, people or an aircraft, we have to look after that.
“I don’t mind flying. I’ve been in the back of the chinook helicopters and that’s cool. I love it.
“For me there’s that common link of serving and representing my nation, whether I’m in uniform or my kit.
“When we sing the anthem before a game, I always stand to attention. That’s super-special for me and is my way of representing I’m in the Forces when I’m on England duty.”
The pandemic rewriting of calendars means that the next World Cup is only two-and-a-half year’s away, making this tournament a key marker.
Cokayne added: “We're constantly looking to improve as individuals and as a team.
“We're definitely not going to be perfect in the Six Nations, especially with different personnel and stuff like that that have maybe coming in and getting exposure.
“But there is a good energy about the whole group.
“We have an amazing opportunity. We’re becoming more visible and that brings pressure but we want to change and inspire women to play this game.”
Coach: Simon Middleton will take charge of England for the final campaign before stepping down, having led them to four successive titles
Star player: Abby Dow started last season’s tournament with a stunning solo try against Scotland and is one of the best finishers in the game
Chances: Fresh from their World Cup heart-break, anything other than a Grand Slam would be a disappointment for England
Coach: Former skipper Gaëlle Mignot and fellow forwards coach David Ortiz have stepped up to work as joint head coaches, with Mignot the only woman in the top job in this tournament
Star player: Scrum-half Pauline Bourdon will fill the gap left by her partner Laure Sansus, last season’s Player of the Championship
Chances: The only European team who have run England close in recent years, they will want to set up a Grand Slam decider at Twickenham and end an 11-game losing streak against their biggest rivals
Coach: Greg McWilliams took over in December 2021 after Ireland had failed to qualify for the World Cup, having previously worked as an assistant when the team won the title back in 2013
Star player: Blindside flanker Dorothy Wall burst onto the scene in the 2021 edition and the former basketball player is now one of Ireland’s most important forwards at just 22
Chances: Ireland finished fourth a year ago, and will be without some of their standout sevens players, but should still fancy their chances of a top three finish behind the big two
Coach: Giovanni Raineri has stepped into the top job in place of Andrea di Giandomenico, who had run the show for more than a decade
Star player: Playmaker Beatrice Rigoni would slot into any team in the world and with her pulling the strings, Italy can unlock even the tightest defences
Chances: With former skipper Manuela Furlan among those to retire after the World Cup – where Italy reached the quarter-finals for the first time – this is something of a rebuild year for the Azzurre
Coach: Bryan Easson has been in charge of Scotland since the end of 2020, leading them to World Cup qualification for the first time in more than a decade last year
Star player: Full-back Chloe Rollie caught the eye with a length-of-the-field try against Ireland five years ago and has gone from strength to strength since but had her World Cup cut short by injury
Chances: Having turned professional after the World Cup, Scotland need to prove that the move has helped them close the gap to the best teams
Coach: Ioan Cunningham took over approximately 18 months ago and has overseen an improvement in results from Wales, combined with the introduction of professional contracts
Star player: With Siwan Lillicrap retired and Alisha Butchers injured, lots of responsibility will fall on rising star Alex Callender in the back row
Chances: Last year Wales won their first two games against Ireland and Scotland before suffering three defeats – a second successive top-half finish would be a good result
SCOTLAND skipper Rachel Malcolm is out to put a dampener on Sarah Hunter’s England farewell – even though the Red Roses star is her biggest rugby influence.
Hunter will call time on her career after today’s TikTok Six Nations opener in her home city of Newcastle.
But for her Loughborough Lightning team-mate Malcolm, Hunter will remain one of the great role-models.
Malcolm said: “I can’t speak highly enough of Sarah – as a player, a person and a leader.
“I know the difference she’s made to my career and my leadership and my performances.
“There’s not a player who has influenced the game as much as she has, every single time she goes on the pitch, for our club, training for England.
“That is what being a rugby player is about. She never gives less than 110%. In terms of role models, it doesn't get much better than that.
“She's a really kind of human as well. She looks out for everyone she plays with and coaches. She's incredible.
“We know we’re the underdogs. We were close to winning games last year but close isn’t good enough for us any more.”
In the weekend’s other two games, Wales face Ireland at Cardiff Arms Park in what is likely to be a tight encounter, with Italy hosting France in Parma tomorrow.
WALES VS IRELAND
THERE is more than just TikTok Women’s Six Nations positions on the line when Ireland travel to Wales in Round 1.
A new global competition called WXV is going to radically change the women’s game, and the top three teams from this year’s Six Nations will all qualify for the top division.
A year ago, Wales finished third at the expense of Ireland, thanks to an opening win away in Dublin, and the return fixture in Cardiff may prove decisive in that battle this time around.
Ireland are without sevens stars Beibhinn Parsons and Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe among others, leaving head coach Greg McWilliams in a difficult position.
He said: “If we’re to get three wins, we get to the WXV, we’re in the top tier.
“Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, we don’t have sevens players but I can get a true reflection on where we stand moving into next year.
“Wherever we finish at the end of the Six Nations, its where we deserve to be.
“And if it’s not good enough that starts with me, I’ll own it.”
McWilliams has handed a debut to 18-year-old Ulster prop Sadhbh McGrath, the only uncapped player in the starting XV, led by second row Nichola Fryday.
Wales, meanwhile, are captained by Hannah Jones, who took over the leadership at last year’s World Cup as they look to build on their run to the quarter-finals in New Zealand, where they were beaten by eventual champions the Black Ferns.
And after their 27-19 win over Ireland a year ago, head coach Ioan Cunningham is desperate to build on the success of 2022.
He said: “We know Ireland will pose a formidable challenge but we finished third in last season’s TikTok Six Nations and want to improve on that. As a team, we know we can create opportunities and we just need to finish them off and score more tries.
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“The squad have worked really hard and we have prepared really well and we are looking to make a positive start at Cardiff Arms Park.”
For all the latest TikTok Women’s Six Nations news, information, and details on how to watch the Championship, visit: https://womens.sixnationsrugby.com/
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