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Hibbert-Jones relishing first taste of England camp

Daisy Hibbert-Jones admits the learning curve within England’s international set-up is steep, but the Loughborough Lightning back row is savouring every moment of her first experience with the Red Roses.

The 21-year-old pulled on the African Violet jersey for Loughborough 18 times last season, scoring four tries in the process, and her efforts earned her a first call-up into interim head coach Louis Deacon’s international training squad over the last few weeks.

Hibbert-Jones previously represented England at Under-20s level, but with the Red Roses preparing for two warm-up Test matches against Canada before the end of this month ahead of the inaugural WXV competition, she has relished the opportunity to both learn and show what she can do at the very highest level.

“The step up from the Allianz Premiership Women’s Rugby to England is quite a lot, in terms of physicality and also just the speed of learning,” she said.

“But it’s an environment that I’m hoping to be involved in for the long term, and I’m working hard. I’m really enjoying being in there, being exposed to the players that are there and just pushing myself as a rugby player on and off the field as well.

“The key difference (between club and international rugby) to me is firstly the physicality. You’re bringing the best players across the whole league together into one environment. So, when you’re going full contact against everyone there, it’s quite different to what you’re used to at club level.

“Also, just in terms of the learning, it’s quite a quick turnaround between being shown something new and then being expected to do it on the pitch instantly. The analysis each evening before the next training session is super important for you to be able to stay on top of things and catch up.

“When you’re at your club, because you’re together a lot more frequently, you have a lot more time to go over those smaller details. But when you’re away with England you have quite a short amount of time with that group of people. So, it’s important that you’re able to learn something, pick it up and then learn it pretty much instantly.”

The new WXV tournament begins next month, with England playing in the top-tier WXV1 and competing with France, Wales, Australia, Canada and hosts New Zealand for the trophy.

Hibbert-Jones is yet to find out whether she will make the plane on this occasion with a condensed squad set to be announced after the warm-up matches against Canada, but the back row forward is excited about the tournament and the two years ahead for England leading into a Rugby World Cup on home soil.

“It’s great that England can go and play against the best teams in the world and really challenge themselves, because we don’t often get exposure to play against the very best teams,” Hibbert-Jones said.

“It’s really cool that we can see where we’re at just after preseason. We’ve got a big focus internally on what we can do as a squad to push ourselves to the next level and to compete.”

Daisy Hibbert-Jones

“So, it’s really exciting that we can go out there and go against those world-class teams, and then start to prepare again for the next World Cup in two years in England.”

Before heading into England camp, Hibbert-Jones had begun preseason preparations alongside the rest of the Loughborough Lightning squad, with the new season now firmly on the horizon and the Allianz Cup beginning this weekend.

New head coach Nathan Smith has been putting his players through their paces to aim to improve on a frustratingly stop-start campaign in 2022/23, and Hibbert-Jones has her sights set on helping the team to kick on while also making the No.8 shirt her own.

She said: “I’ve not been around for the past couple of weeks while I have been in with England, but talking to a lot of the girls that have been in training, Nathan’s really ramped up the sessions in terms of a lot more conditioning.

“It’s been quite a tough preseason for the girls. We had a trip out to Bradgate Park, which was a great experience to be able to work in teams and complete quite a tough physical challenge.

“He’s really pushing the girls physically and mentally, but hopefully that’s going to put us in the best position to start competing, starting with the first Cup game next week against Gloucester.

“For me, I want to make myself familiar with starting in the number eight shirt at Loughborough. Last year, I was working hard and quite often mentioned behind Sarah Hunter, but obviously following her retirement I have a massive opportunity to try and take that step up, make that shirt mine, and become a regular starter for Lightning.”

This will be the first season that Lightning play all their home league matches at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens, and Hibbert-Jones is thrilled to be able to call the ground ‘home’.

“The facilities are insane”, she added. “The home changing rooms and pitch are incredible, it’s like a carpet.

“One thing that we love here that we struggle to get at Loughborough is the support. We get so many people that come along to support us, and in that stadium the noise that it makes is almost like that 16th player that people talk about having on the pitch.

“Last year against Saracens was our biggest crowd there, so hopefully we’re looking to build from strength to strength with that, and increase the people that come to support us. Hopefully putting on more good performances at the Gardens will make them want to come back again as well.”

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