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Ellie Kildunne credited the All Blacks for helping her storm to success as the Red Roses’ super sub ahead of Saturday’s TikTok Women’s Six Nations Grand Slam decider against France, writes Josh Graham.
The 22-year-old from West Yorkshire started at full-back in the opening wins over Scotland and Italy before coming off the bench to great effect in the victories against Wales and Ireland and is again named among the replacements for the winner-takes-all clash at Stade Jean Dauger.
With World Rugby’s Coach of the Year Simon Middleton blessed with superb strength in depth and keen to rotate his squad, Kildunne has found herself in a new role but admits that after watching the New Zealand men’s team’s Amazon Prime special, she is not too disheartened.
The Harlequins flyer said: “You are always going to have some sort of disappointment when you are not in the starting squad, but there’s definitely more of an understanding for the girls coming off the bench that we know how much of an impact we can bring.
“You can really change the game; it can almost be two separate halves if you come on with the right energy.
“I watched the All Blacks documentary and one of the nines, I can’t remember which, said that his dad said to him: ‘If you are going to be the starting nine, be the best nine in the world. If you are going to be on the bench, be the best finisher in the world and if you are not picked, be the best bag carrier in the world.’
“So you’ve always got something to do to provide for the team and ensure that together you get through the game with success.”
Kildunne was instrumental in helping England power past Ireland last Sunday, crossing for two tries after coming on in the 44th minute as the Red Roses scored 59 unanswered second-half points to set up La Crunch with Les Bleues in Bayonne on Super Saturday.
And the speedster admits her recent experience - replacing Abby Dow after just 13 minutes against Wales when she fractured her leg - just proves that players have to be ready for anything.
She added: “We are playing a contact sport, so you never know what’s going to happen.
“You’ve always got to be ready and be prepared to either get no minutes at all or come on early in the match. It’s a team of 23 not 15.”
The defending champions will have to make do without captain Sarah Hunter against France after she picked up a rib injury against Ireland.
However, England’s second most-capped player of all time has still travelled to France to support the side in their preparation, something Kildunne believes softens the blow of her on-field absence.
She explained: “It's massive to have her on the pitch but I don’t think it’s going to impact us too much, we have people that can fill-in.
“It’s not going to impact the way we train and play and it’s all the more reason to come home with the Grand Slam.
“She’s a huge part of the team and because she’s still there, we will have her energy and all the things she normally does in preparation.”
France have matched England by taking maximum points from their first four fixtures with scrum-half Laure Sansus, the Championship’s top try scorer with six, their main threat.
And Kildunne is hoping her side can keep their dangerous opponents - who she refers to as “dogs” due to their rampant work-rate - on a leash as they can cause problems across the park.
She added: “France are described as dogs - they don’t stop working. They’ve got a very big pack, a lot of tall girls.
“They’ve got good ball handlers and fast girls out in the backs too, good at stepping and got a kick on them too.
“It’s a step up from the other games that we’ve played, which you always have to be conscious of when playing against them.
“They work very hard, they never stop and they always get the lucky bounce of everything, so we’ve got to keep on working and make sure we are really clinical against them as we are not going to get too many opportunities to break them down.”
The TikTok Women’s Six Nations is more accessible than ever before. To find out how you can watch the climax of the Women’s Championship on Super Saturday visit: womens.sixnationsrugby.com/tv/