While ultimately delaying England’s second successive Women’s Six Nations title, the break in play due to coronavirus did have some positive on and off-field permutations for exciting back Jess Breach.
The 22-year-old has enjoyed a stark rise through the ranks since making an emphatic entrance onto the international stage with six tries on debut against Canada in 2017, claiming 22 scores in just 13 Tests to date.
Having first picked up a rugby ball aged six at Chichester RFC, Breach won the European Sevens with England U18s in 2014 and 2015 before her senior XVs bow, after which she went on to win a bronze medal as part of the Sevens side that competed at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
A former sprint hurdler at the English Schools Athletics Championships, Breach celebrated being named as one of 28 contracted England players in 2019 by topping the year’s Women’s Six Nations try-scoring charts with nine, as the Red Rose claimed the Grand Slam.
And Breach was at the forefront of the action again during this year’s series ahead of the near-eight-month hiatus, notching tries in wins against Scotland and Ireland to put England on the cusp of a second Grand Slam in a row.
But having been dealt a crushing blow last year when her mother Patricia was diagnosed with cancer, lockdown provided the Harlequins star with a rare opportunity to spend time with her family while fully recovering from an ankle injury.
“Even though it’s been a horrible time for a lot of people, it’s actually been really nice spending quality time with our loved ones,” Breach said, speaking to rugbyworldcup.com.
“The hardest thing was my mum not being able to watch me play during her treatment. Her and my dad literally came to every game I have played for England and this was the only one she has missed.
“Everything you do, you do it for the people that have helped you get there, which is your family.
“During lockdown I had time to take it easy, whereas sometimes when you have an important game coming up you have that focus and you want to rush. But as soon as rugby started back up, I was actually rugby fit.”
France’s 13-13 draw against Scotland signalled an end to Les Bleues’ Championship winning bid, handing the trophy to Simon Middleton’s side with one game left to play, away against Italy.
A second Grand Slam in as many years would mark the perfect end to the disrupted campaign for England, before attentions begin to turn to next year’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
“My perfect year would look like winning the autumns, winning the Six Nations Grand Slam, winning the Premiership and then getting selected and winning the World Cup,” said Breach, who is studying sports communications and marketing at St Mary’s University alongside her playing commitments.
“I think it’s really important to put your best performance out in all games, because the England coaches always say that they watch them and then pick on performance, which I think is really true.
“For a lot of us younger players, this is our first opportunity to get picked to be in the squad for the World Cup, which is one of my end goals at the moment.”