Poppy Cleall believes the experience from England’s victory over France in the first-ever Women’s Six Nations final will help her add more silverware to her collection this weekend.
The 2021 Player of the Championship lines up for Saracens in the much-anticipated Premier 15s final on Sunday as the reigning champions bid for a third consecutive title.
Standing in their way are familiar foes Harlequins, who Saracens have played and defeated in the last two finals in 2018 and 2019 before last season’s Covid-impacted campaign.
Cleall is joined in the starting XV by sister and Red Roses teammate Bryony as well as fellow England finalists Marlie Packer, Zoe Harrison and Sarah McKenna for the showdown at Kingsholm.
And the 28-year-old back row sensation expects the triumph over Les Bleues in the Championship finale will only prove beneficial for Saracens in their quest for more silverware.
“When we played in that final I remember looking around and thinking not many of us have actually played in a final, it’s very rare in the women’s game apart from the league,” she said.
“We don’t get any others outside a World Cup and that’s every four years so some people they don’t get much knockout rugby and it’s a different kind of rugby, different to any league game.
“It’s all about who turns up the best on the day, adapts to the conditions early enough, settles their nerves and manages to put out how their team wants to play on the day.
“I think coming from that Six Nations final, it’s just another bit of experience you can put in your back pocket for when we play this weekend or going forward in the future.
“You make mistakes in your first final you don’t make in your second final so every time you can play in a final it gives you more experience.”
While Saracens claimed bragging rights in the last two finals between these teams, Harlequins held their opponents to a 17-17 draw in their last meeting in the regular season.
And it’s not just the champions who are set to call on their internationals, with Harlequins also possessing several England players who played in the Women’s Six Nations final.
England stars Vickii Cornborough, Amy Cokayne, Shaunagh Brown, Abbie Ward, Sarah Beckett, Leanne Riley and Lagi Tuima all featured against France as Simon Middleton’s side retained the title.
Meanwhile, experienced international Rachael Burford will lead Quins and Scotland’s Chloe Rollie provides threat from full-back in the absence of injured winger Jess Breach.
“It’s so hard to call because it is a final and nerves play a massive part, don’t they? If you’ve not played many then you get very, very nervous and it affects all your players,” Cleall said.
“The first five minutes is always very cagey and a few errors creep in but whoever can control their emotion early on will get a good start and it’s going to be a battle up front in the forwards.
“It’s going to unrelenting, a hard, physical game and quite a lot of the time they say Sarries v Quins games are more physical than international games so it’s going to be up there.
“With Quins we know all about them, it’s our third final against just them. We’ve played them multiple times and had absolutely humdinger games, going down to the wire.
“I think if I was to look at them and their threats, they have a world class lineout leader in Abbie Ward, they have a No.8 similar to my style in Sarah Beckett.
“At the back they’ve got Lagi Tuima who can sprinkle stardust on any place, they have threats all over the park so we need to make sure we do all the things we’re good at.”
And Quins head coach Gerard Mullen echoed the sentiments of Cleall, predicting that the final will be more like a Test match than a normal league fixture for his players.
“I have no doubt it will be a tight game, but as a squad we’ve done all we can to ensure that we can go that one step further this season and come home with some silverware,” he said.
“I’m sure the level of play and the physicality will be very high. I believe Saracens will want to play tough but knockout rugby is a bit different. It will probably come down to the finer margins.
“It will feel more like a test game rather than a standard league fixture. No doubt about it, it will be a great spectacle for everyone watching, whether at the ground, at home or around the world.”
Saracens: 15 Sarah McKenna, 14 Sydney Gregson, 13 Hannah Casey, 12 Holly Aitchison, 11 Lotte Clapp (C), 10 Zoe Harrison, 9 Emma Swords; 1 Hannah Botterman, 2 May Campbell, 3 Bryony Cleall, 4 Sophie de Goede, 5 Emma Taylor, 6 Vicky Fleetwood, 7 Marlie Packer, 8 Poppy Cleall
Replacements: 16 Jodie Rettie, 17 Rocky Clark, 18 Donna Rose, 19 Rosie Galligan, 20 Georgia Evans, 21 Eloise Hayward, 22 Alysha Corrigan, 23 Rachel Laqeretabua
Harlequins: 15. Chloe Rollie, 14. Heather Cowell, 13. Lagi Tuima, 12. Rachael Burford (C), 11. Beth Wilcock, 10. Emily Scott, 9. Leanne Riley; 1. Vickii Cornborough, 2. Amy Cokayne, 3. Shaunagh Brown, 4. Abbie Ward (VC), 5. Fi Fletcher, 6. Lauren Brooks, 7. Katy Mew, 8. Sarah Beckett
Replacements: 16. Rosie Dobson, 17. Tove Viksten, 18. Chloe Edwards, 19. Alex Eddie, 20. Emily Robinson, 21. Lucy Packer, 22. Ellie Green, 23. Izzy Mayhew