Red Roses head coach Simon Middleton believes Harriet Millar-Mills has ‘got a major part to play for England going forward’, talking to TRP ahead of Sunday’s crunch match with France.
England begin their Six Nations Grand Slam in Pau on Sunday and the Wasps forward stands to make her first appearance since the 2017 Rugby World Cup final.
Named among the replacements, Millar-Mills has crossed plenty of bridges in the two-and-a-half stretch between earning her 51st cap in Ireland and her 52nd this weekend. Three surgeries to correct an ACL knee injury and a lengthy rehabilitation process means the France clash carries a little more meaning for the 28-year-old.
“I am so pleased for her; she has had an absolutely shocking time with injuries,” Middleton said. “To get one ACL is bad enough but to reinjure it when you’re so close to coming back is tough. It is testimony to her mental strength and her desire to play that she has pushed on through and come back.
“When she got injured she was playing some great rugby and had started the season really well for Wasps, taking her form with England to the next level. It’s never a good time to get injured but for her it was particularly bad, so to get her back in the side is fantastic. She is a phenomenal athlete, a really, really good player and a great character.
“You just hope she can put all the injury luck behind her and concentrate on playing because she has got a major part to play for England going forward.
“Harriet an adaptable player, capable of playing anywhere across the back five; she can play across the second row, she can play 6, 7, 8. There’s absolutely no doubt she can play across all those positions.
“When you’re going towards a World Cup you need players who are high quality, athletic, and if they can play across a number of positions, they are a valuable commodity.
“I just want her to play and enjoy it being back in an England shirt. It has been a long time coming for her.”
Millar-Mills is one of seven players in Middleton’s matchday-23 with over 50 caps. There doesn’t mean there isn’t room for some new project players to work on, with young trio Amelia Harper, Millie Wood and Morwenna Talling included in the broader squad for the tournament.
Loughborough Lightning flanker Harper is in line to make her debut against Les Bleues, while Wood is seen by Middleton as a player who’s future in the England squad could come timely when stalwart centre Emily Scarratt reaches the end of her career.
“She has been around the squad for a long time. She has drifted in and out of the Sevens programme but at her best she is a really good player, and a versatile player. She has found some consistent form at Gloucester-Hartpury and so we brought her into the squad.
“We know that 13 is a position, for us, that we’re a little bit shallow in. We have the best player in the world there in Scaz (Emily Scarratt) but after her we look around and we wonder where the next out-and-out 13 is.
“Lagi Tuima probably was that player but she has been injured for the best part of 18 months now, so we have had to look beyond that. Millie fills that criteria but at the same time we know there are players we need to develop in that area.”
Read more of our preview of the France versus England game with Simon Middleton in Sunday’s TRP.