Back to her best after recovering from an injury hammer blow on her first outing of the season, Vicky Fleetwood is determined to help steer England to a third consecutive Women’s Six Nations title.
The back-rower, who turned 31 on Tuesday, marked her 78th Red Roses cap with a try and a Player of the Match performance in last weekend’s 67-3 win over Italy in Parma, sealing the double-defending champions’ place in this year’s showpiece finale.
The former Sevens star featured twice in the 2019 Grand Slam success and crossed three times in last year’s Six Nations but suffered an early setback this season when she tore her hamstring tendon playing for Saracens.
That meant she had to watch from the sidelines as England went on to emulate their 2019 exploits in the autumn but after working her way back into Simon Middleton’s plans, Fleetwood insists she is back and better than ever.
“It was almost a year since I’d last played for England, so it’s been great to be back involved and it did feel like a long time coming,” said Fleetwood, who was part of England’s World Cup winning squad in 2014.
“I’d got myself into a really good place during the first lockdown with all the extra time we’d had, so to get injured 20 minutes into the season - which then kept me out for around three months - was incredibly frustrating.
“It was tough to take but I’ve had a few injuries in my time and I think I’ve learnt how to deal with them better each time. Initially I took myself away from the game, and then gradually I worked myself back in and around the team.
“I had to keep focusing on the positives and the fact there was still lots of the season I could play. I’m back now but still learning and looking to improve, and fighting to keep my place in the England team.”
Away from the rugby arena, former junior hurdler Fleetwood is a practicing personal trainer, something she credits with aiding her recovery from injury despite the challenges imposed on the industry by coronavirus.
And with gyms having reopened this week as part of the UK’s gradual easing of lockdown, she is confident such a move will serve as a boost to the general public’s mental health.
“Before the pandemic I was still working in the gym on my days off, because I love the interaction and I get a massive lift from people working hard around me,” Fleetwood said.
“Going online meant I had to broaden my horizons, but while some of the other girls do bits like media or whatever, being a PT is important to me because it’s something that helps take my mind off rugby.
“The gyms were open for a bit while I was injured, and it really helped me channel my energy into something positive. I was able to put quite a bit of time into that around my rehab, which was cool.
“I think the reopening of gyms now is a huge thing for a lot of people. Things have evolved at home but for a lot of people that different space and environment is important. There’ll still be protocols in place of course but I think people are used to them now.”
Back on the field, Fleetwood is itching to retain her starting spot for England’s Six Nations title-deciding clash on April 24’s Super Saturday, when they will face either Ireland or France in the hunt for the trophy.
But while she acknowledges there is intense competition among the squad, she is also anticipating a tough test regardless of who finishes top of Pool B at the conclusion of this weekend’s action.
She added: “The high standard in the squad is so positive because it just drives every player on to do better. The Premier 15s is just getting stronger and stronger and we’re all being pushed week in, week out.
“With the change in format we obviously can’t win the Grand Slam again, but we want to win every time we go out there and if we do that we’ll win the whole thing.
“France looked amazing against Wales and we always know when we play them that it’s going to go down to the wire. If it’s them, we know it’ll be hard work but it will be a really exciting occasion.
“The likes of Claire Molloy and Cliodhna Moloney play in the Premier 15s so we’re used to seeing them regularly, and Ireland have some really exciting new caps so if we’re up against them it’ll be interesting, too.”