Red Roses newcomer Amelia Harper says her experience of the Six Nations has given her hopes of playing in the World Cup in New Zealand next year a boost, despite contending for a shirt where England are blessed with quality.
The Loughborough Lightning openside flanker was named in Simon Middleton’s squad for the tournament in January, and came off the bench to make her debut in the 19-13 win over France on opening weekend.
Described by Middleton as an ‘out-and-out seven’, Harper believes in the benefit of learning from current first-choice No.7, Vicky Fleetwood.
“All three players in my position – Vicky Fleetwood, Marlie Packer and Heather Fisher – are really great players,” Harper told TRP, having appeared off the bench in each of England’s four games in their unbeaten campaign.
“I haven’t met Marlie yet but I’ve always watched her and I have played against her in the Premier 15s. She’s an outstanding No.7; she’s massively good over the ball, a good ball-carrier and aggressive, and ‘Fleeto’ is the same.
“She (Fleetwood) is just a pure athlete, really quick, and it’s good having her here because she’s helped me fine tune a few things that maybe I wouldn’t know due to my own lack of experience. They are all incredibly good players and it’s good to be able to look up to them and know that’s where I need to be getting to in my standard.”
Motivation to improve as a player isn’t hard to come by with Lightning teammates Sarah Hunter and Emily Scarratt in camp, the England captain and vice-captain duo leading the charge to another Six Nations title.
But Harper, by her own account, is at a club which has the next generation coming through that can produce England stars and a squad that can rival Saracens and Harlequins in the Tyrrells Premier 15s.
17-year-old teammate Morwenna Talling is testament to that after receiving a call-up herself at the start of the Six Nations. And Harper believes this is a sign of the in-roads Lightning are making in bridging the gap to two prominent frontrunners in Women’s domestic rugby.
“She’s a really hard worker and a physical ball-carrier,” Harper said of Talling. “She is very talented for her age, you would see her on the pitch and not expect to see her dominate people physically the way she does. To see her play the way she does, you wouldn’t think she’s the age she is – she’s a really good egg! She has got her head switched on and is a grafter.
“The times where we’ve played Sarries and Quins this year, we’ve been close to beating them but there’s a mistake which lets us down. Sometimes, it’s more of a psychological thing rather than ability because I believe we can beat them, personally, but just sometimes on the day we show up for the first half and fall away in the second.
“We have that ability to go out against them and contend with them, and beat them. I think we are competitive when we play them, it’s never a whitewash and we’re never far behind.
“We beat Quins in the season the previous year and just missed out on a semi-final place, unfortunately. So hopefully this year we come away with the win and keep our heads down.
At 19 years of age, Harper knows that as long as she can produce the goods to remain in the squad her development can excel.
“It’s always people’s dreams to play in a World Cup, and to win a World Cup in general,” added Harper.
“Hopefully, next year we’ll see if I’ve done enough to get in that squad. If not then I will just go away and work on improving. I am always trying to improve anyway but this has proven that I am closer than I thought I was.”