Lark Atkin-Davis expects England to take their game to another level under John Mitchell as they begin their Women’s Six Nations title defence this weekend.

Mitchell was appointed as Red Roses head coach last year, having previously served as defence coach for the men’s national team under Eddie Jones, and this will be the first tournament he has personally overseen.

England have won the Women’s Six Nations for each of the past five editions, completing another Grand Slam in 2023, and hooker Atkin-Davies believes the New Zealander is pushing them to take their game on even further in an ominous sign for their rivals.

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England head coach John Mitchell discusses his new role with the Red Roses as they chase their sixth straight Six Nations title

“I think, for myself, I love to be challenged and love learning and that is certainly happening with John Mitchell coming in,” Atkin-Davies said. “He is really trying to elevate our game whether that be through variety or playing a faster game.

“There are loads of things that we can keep challenging ourselves on and working on, whether it is from a physical perspective or a game understanding and knowledge perspective. As players, we are always looking to elevate our game and playing the best possible rugby we can be.

“I am a big believer there is always an extra per cent, so through variety and change, you can always find that.

“We have shown how much of a weapon our maul is in terms of scoring opportunities but also showing some more variety in terms of, be it forwards, backs, we will hopefully show that on Sunday.”

England A Training Session - Mattioli Woods Welford Road Stadium - Saturday 26th June
England Defence coach John Mitchell during the training session at the Mattioli Woods Welford Road Stadium, Leicester. Picture date: Saturday June 26, 2021.
John Mitchell was named as Red Roses head coach last year

The Red Roses squad for the tournament, which they kick off away to Italy on Sunday, contains plenty of familiar faces along with three newcomers in Vicky Laflin, Lizzie Hanlon and Maddie Fe’aunati.

Exeter Chiefs back row Fe’aunati is the daughter of former Bath No 8 Issac Fe’aunati. Although both her and her father are New Zealanders, she is eligible for the Red Roses due to being born in this country and a holder of a British passport.

She has impressed for Exeter in Premiership Women’s Rugby this season and England forwards coach Louis Deacon is in no doubt she can become an all-round threat for the team.

“Initially, we noticed her as a ball carrier and ball player,” Deacon said. “She was someone who we recognised early when she started playing at Exeter.

“There was one game that we went to see and her ball carrying just really stood out. Then the lineout is another area that she has got strengths in.

“It is probably an area that she can develop more but her super strength is probably her ball carrying and her ability to move the ball as an extra back rower that can play like a back almost. She has got that skillset.”

At the other end of the scale, Emily Scarratt returns to the Red Roses squad for the first time since 2022 after 13 months following surgery on a neck injury, while Marlie Packer is set to win her 100th cap against Italy.

Atkin-Davies hailed the impact captain Packer has had on the team on and off the field, and is delighted to see her reach the milestone.

England v France - TikTok Women's Six Nations - Twickenham Stadium
England's Marlie Packer celebrates with the Women's Six Nations trophy after the TikTok Women's Six Nations at Twickenham Stadium, London. Picture date: Saturday April 29, 2023.
Marlie Packer is set to earn her 100th cap for England

“I think Marlie has such an influence on the squad on and off the pitch,” Atkin-Davies said. “She is a bundle of energy, she shows her class in the way that she leads with her actions, especially around the park.

“She is someone that will really pick you up as well, which is the unseen bits. If you need that little boost, she is there for you, she is chatting to you, and what a moment for her to hopefully make her 100th cap in the next few weeks.

“It shows the class she has as a player. She has had a few accolades recently and she certainly deserves them all.”

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