17 October 2020

Rugby’s Katy Daley-Mclean on swimming with the Sharks, rule changes and that Grand Slam decider

England and Sale Sharks’ Katy Daley-Mclean feared the rule changes in the Premier 15s would turn the game into a form of Sevens - but is delighted how things have started.

The league returned last weekend with the matches now 70 minutes instead of 80, scrums and mauls reduced and strict social distancing when the ball is not in play to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.

Daley-Mclean told NewsChain she had her reservations.

"Yeah it is interesting as a player. You always have a bit of scepticism like ‘oh god will it become a bit of like sevens because people are going to be free tapping all over?' In the game that we played I think the refs did a really good job of managing that.

"I felt like the advantage the team got was the proper scrum advantage rather than it becoming a penalty advantage because it’s so quick. I think it will be interesting to see how teams adapt to that now we've all played it for one round.

“Will teams start to do different things rather than tap and go or will it be special plays almost? But to be honest the integrity of the game is still there for me, I think that was really important for the brand of women's rugby.”

She she would like to see the stats from all the games to see if there were more line-outs than in a usual match as teams could kick to corner rather than play a scrum.

"It would be interesting to see what the stats were in comparison. There are a couple of free kicks that we did that we got bang on 22 that allowed us to go kick to the line to get out of our red zone. So it would be interesting, whether there were more line-outs or they become more noticeable because there were less scrums.

"I'm not sure whether people kicked more from a free kick to the line or teams have re-developed their kicking game which might be something [we see more often] as we watch more of the women’s game.

“You're going to see more people and teams kicking the ball and go challenging at set piece because it becomes more about territory rather than possession.”

Sharks’ match against Loughborough Lightning was not just their first with new law changes but their first ever in the Premier 15s after they joined the league following a re-tendering process back in April.

The 34 year-old says she was ‘proud’ of her side’s performance against Lightning, despite losing 29-7.

"A new team in the best of times in normal considerations going into the top tier of women's rugby was always going to be tough, never mind doing it it where people had actually only had proper training sessions for the last four, five weeks. 

“I was so proud of the way the girls fronted up. Loughborough are a top four side and they were a top four side last year for a reason and I think just the way we contained them, the way our units went and how individuals stood up in that shirt I was so proud of them all.”

Sharks will have to put in another strong performance this weekend as they come up against the two-time defending champions Saracens.

She added Sharks are focusing on building on their performance rather than looking at Sarries.

"I think for us, I feel really good that we went really well against Loughborough but it'll mean nothing if we don't put in a similar performance against Saracens as well.

"Obviously massive respect for those guys, they are a very good well drilled side. They have real talent there. I think for us it's about doing our thing and not getting caught too much on what Saracens are doing and just trying to make more improvements in our overall performance. 

“For us as part of this league, this year especially, is about developing our players and our style of play and really getting to grips with the league. So I think ultimately it's quite nice because the pressure isn't really on us, obviously at home we’re trying to build a bit of a reputation where people come to the north west and it’s not an easy day at the office for them.”

While the league has returned, fans have not as they are still not allowed in stadiums due to coronavirus restrictions.

With these in place and Sharks being a new team, how does Daley-Mclean believe they will start to build a fan base? 

"I think it's good our game was streamed, I think that's going to be really important for every club not just the new teams. I think we're lucky in the north west with the brand of Sale Sharks that the guys have and [we’re] hopefully trying to jump on that with general rugby fans.

"I think when you go to the south west they do that well. They don't care who's playing rugby because it's a south west team especially going down to Exeter at Sandy Park they have that and I think that's something we can use [to make Sharks] the rugby union team of the north west.

“Try to really attract schools and young people and young women to come and watch Sale when we can do so. It's about [continuing] trying to perform, social media is also important and giving them [fans] an opportunity to watch.”

England are heading for a Grand Slam in the 2020 Six Nations (DPA/PA Images)

Daley-Mclean has returned to the club arena and next month she will also return to the international stage to conclude the 2020 Six Nations with England.

The Red Roses play Italy on November 1 and if they secure victory England will win the Grand Slam. 

She says she is ‘excited’ to get back on the pitch with the Red Roses.

"It's a very strange time and it isn’t that important in the bigger scheme of people’s health and safety but it's great. We've been in camp for the last four, five weeks doing a couple of days. It's nice to see the girls and start to get back into the England way of playing.

"Italy have a game the week before they play us at the end, so for them we know they have an opportunity to be prepared for that. I think they are in World Cup qualifiers so they will want to put on a good performance.

“I think it will be a real tightly fought game but for us obviously it could be the winning Grand Slam game as well.”

The 2020 Six Nations and the tournament next year will act as a springboard for countries heading into the World Cup being held in New Zealand next summer.

The World Cup winner still believes there is enough time to prepare for the world stage despite Covid delays.

She added: "We're still a long way out from that. I think it's amazing what people can do with time as well you know. Think about how much we have developed our training to allow us to do so safely.

"But I think there's plenty of time, I just think it’s about making sure for the teams that haven’t qualified that they have an opportunity to do that because I think that’s more the stress.

“It’s not necessarily about the long term of the World Cup, it’s about the teams now that need to play so they know what's happening.”

Sharks v Saracens will kick off at 3pm this Saturday.

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