The 2019 Women’s Six Nations launched in London on Wednesday, and all six women’s captains and coaches were in attendance to kick off the eagerly-anticipated tournament.
Sarah Hunter (England), Gaelle Hermet (France), Ciara Griffin (Ireland), Manuela Furlan (Italy), Lisa Thomson (Scotland) and Carys Phillips (Wales) were all present at the launch at The Hurlingham Club, SW London.
The Women’s Championship starts next Friday with last year’s runners up England travelling to Dublin to play Ireland, while Scotland host Italy in Glasgow on the same night.
Reigning champions France will get their title defence underway in a Saturday-evening clash with Wales in Montpellier.
The 2019 edition of the Women’s Six Nations will be another landmark Championship in terms of growth and change for women’s rugby, with England competing as full-time professionals for the first time.
And England captain Hunter is keen to build upon that progress at this year’s Championship by boosting the profile of women’s rugby across the country.
She said: “Our preparations have been going well, especially with the news at the beginning of the year that we were going to be full-time professionals.
“It’s hugely important for us to go and showcase the Red Roses around the country when we play in Doncaster and Exeter and show what we are all about.
“Last time we played at Castle Park the fans were amazing. Wherever we go we’ll have the Red Rose support along the way.”
The opening match between England and Ireland is one of the most eagerly-anticipated matches of the Championship and Ireland captain Griffin is looking forward to hosting the 14-time champions next Friday.
She added: “It’s a great opener and a nice game to have at home, especially at Energia Park in Donnybrook. It’s a place we really want to make into a fortress.
“Our target is to look for improvements in each match and make each performance better than the last.”
All eyes will be on last year’s winners France in their opening fixture against Wales, but captain Hermet is taking it one step at a time.
She said: “We know that everyone has high expectations of us after last year, but we can’t take anything for granted at this level so we will be concentrating on one game at a time.”
Italy’s Furlan is enthused by the development of the women’s game and hopes the growing support can spur her side to success in 2019.
She said: “It’s great for us to see how much the sport is growing in Italy.
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) January 23, 2019
“We want the support to continue to grow and grow because we know how important the 16th man is.”
Thomson wants to lead by example in order to kick-start Scotland’s 2019 campaign with a win at home to Italy next week.
She said: “We’ve got a lot of depth in the squad, with the likes of Megan Kennedy coming through.
“I think personally I’ll look to lead by example and hopefully the players will follow and we’ll get some really good performances out over the tournament.”
Meanwhile, Wales captain Phillips has faith in the ability of her youthful squad as they go out to improve on last year’s sixth-place finish when they face the reigning champions in Montpellier.
She added: “In the autumn series we’ve had some great performances and some good results.
“We’ve developed our youngsters and they’ve come on massively. We’ve got some 18-year-olds on eight caps now, and that’s a big plus for us.”