"A Whole Different Ballgame" - Tatyana Heard: Red Roses Centre on Meg Jones Midfield Partnership & England Fan Support - Ruck

“A Whole Different Ballgame” – Tatyana Heard: Red Roses Centre on Meg Jones Midfield Partnership & England Fan Support

After a starring role for the Red Roses in the 2024 Women’s Six Nations, playmaking midfielder Tatyana Heard has established herself amongst the first names on the England team sheet. With an intelligent approach to reading the game, Heard can spot gaps in the defence for her teammates to exploit, but also has the athleticism to go it alone for some remarkable solo attacks.

Red Roses head coach John Mitchell was poised with some serious selection ‘headaches’ throughout the most recent Six Nations, due to the immense squad depth that the England Women’s team has. The centres is an area of definitive strength for the Red Roses, as Heard jostled for position against the likes of Helena Rowland and Meg Jones, and the returning Sydney Gregson and Emily Scarratt, with ‘Scaz’ eyeing up her first England appearence since the 2021 Rugby World Cup Final.

Heard was initially overlooked for the opening round fixture against Italy, with Mitchell opting for the experienced midfield duo of Rowland and Scarratt to lead the way, with former England sevens star Jones on the bench. However, Tatyana’s efforts would not go ‘unheard’, and after continuously progressing in training she was elevated to the starting team, and held on to the 12 jersey for the remainder of the tournament.

Speaking in a recent England Rugby press conference, Heard expressed how the competition for the two centre spots is fierce in the camp. The Cherry and Whites talent explained how the has to be ‘on her toes’ to keep hold of the shirt, with an abundance of test match quality centres waiting to take the starting position.

“You’ve always got to be on your toes with Meg but then equally we’ve got Holly (Aitchison) at 10 who loves to play with a bit of flair as well, and has you know so many skills in her pocket. So yeah, always on your toes with those girls in the backline.”

Amidst the competitive nature of the Red Roses back-line, a solid midfield partnership emerged throughout the Women’s Six Nations. England fans were shown glimpses of the Heard-Jones midfield axis during last Autumn’s WXV1 campaign, but the pair really came into their own as England claimed their sixth consecutive Women’s Six Nations title.

Heard was full of praise for the Leicester Tigers centre, and recognises her teammate’s impressive cardio coming from a sevens rugby background. Meg Jones has since been called up by the Team GB Sevens squad for the 2024 Paris Olympics, along with her fellow Red Roses flyer in fullback Ellie Kildunne. Speaking on what it’s like to train alongside the soon to be Olympian, Heard said;

“Well, as you can see, like she’s got an electric personality and on and off the pitch. So it is really exciting being around her and just her vision of the game as well. And the information she feeds in, it’s perfect, it’s what you want from your 13 and she’s just got that extra bit of flair, hasn’t she? Which the fans love, but I just love being on a team with Meg you just can’t doubt her passion and energy. So it’s incredible.”

“I mean, in terms of cardio, she’s definitely one of the fittest. And I think it’s also just that mindset, I think in sevens, there’s no out, there’s seven of you on the field and you can’t shy away from that. So I mean, for her, it’s probably quite useful in defense and especially having those extra numbers, but she definitely does bring that energy and has that mindset that we are going to go and make dominant hits, and we are going to get off the line, because that’s what we’re capable of doing.

“And I think just the way Meg plays in general, she does have very high standards and she wants the best for those as a team. She drives that energy, she drives the passion and it is definitely contagious. So it’s really nice to be alongside Meg.”

Heard made her England debut back in 2018, and has been apart of important Red Roses milestones during her time with the team. The centre was named by Simon Middleton in the 35-player squad for the 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup, and had a 10 minute run-out in the final which saw England defeated by the New Zealand Black Ferns.

Having come a long way with the Red Roses, the 29-year-old reflected upon her growth into the leadership group as England entered a new era, post the 2023 Women’s Six Nations.

“I think the main changes in that time for me, it was wearing the shirt. In particular, it hasn’t necessarily… I think the requirements haven’t really changed, just my expectation on myself has shot up massively. Because I think just the more you develop as a player, the more you expect from yourself, and the more I guess you want to perform for your teammates, and be in that team and work your way in and you don’t really want to be let out of it.

“So that’s where you keep trying to develop and making sure that there’s no way that you can’t be selected. So that’s what I want to try and do is make sure that I can always be an option, I don’t ever want to be the player that doesn’t have a certain ability to do something, so that I’m potentially at risk of not getting selected.

“So that’s where I try and take my game. I think if you look back at, like going back to my second cap, I think there was a lot of areas that I needed to develop, there still are. But I didn’t necessarily have that awareness, I just thought, ‘Oh, this is amazing. Second cap, this is just really cool.’

“And you don’t tend to look at the bigger picture of why you’re here and what you want to do with it. But I think when we’re talking about defence, that as Sunter’s (Sarah Hunter) alluded to, we do have a very clear picture of what we want to do and how we want to defend.
I think that level of clarity, I thrive on clarity. So when everything’s very clear for me, and I know exactly what I need to do, it just feels easy. So to be alongside people that are world class defenders, it just makes it so much easier.”

“Well, I guess it’s hard to remember what I was thinking at the time. But obviously, looking back, I didn’t really have a very strong distribution game. I was quite one dimensional. Defensively, I don’t think I was that confident. There’s a lot of elements to my game, which I think have developed.

“But I think that just comes with experience and getting more exposure to the level of training that we do in camp and things like that. Back in 2018 I think maybe I’ve been in three camps. So you just don’t have that understanding of where you want to go as a team and where maybe you’ve got the potential to go, because you just haven’t had the awareness and seen it yet.

“I think the main difference is I’ve had a lot of exposure to camps now and experience of what the coaches want. I think they’re very clear with how we want to play and what they want us to do. So it just it makes it a lot easier if you know exactly what you need to be doing.”

Heard ticked off a milestone achievement in only her second England appearence, as she ran out at Twickenham in an Autumn International against Ireland. The stadium known to England fans as ‘HQ’ has steadily become the host venue for memorable Red Roses fixtures, with next year’s 2025 Women’s Rugby World Cup Final also scheduled to take centre stage in South West London’s amphitheatre.

Heard discussed how the Red Roses aim to put on a show for their fans, each and every time they run out on the pitch. The 2023 Six Nations Grand Slam decider against France set a new attendance record for a women’s rugby match, as over 58,000 fans packed themselves into Twickenham’s bottom and middle tiers. The goal is set for the full 82,000 seats to be sold for the 2025 Rugby World Cup Final, with Heard excited at the continued growth of the women’s game across the world.

“We always want to put on a show, no matter how many fans are there. And we’re really grateful, that all those people are coming in to watch us. So, we always want to put on a show we always want to put on a performance and improve on our previous (game). So yeah, last year was huge. But I think this year is going to be even better because we’re just growing each week.

“I think the steps we’ve taken to get to this point, there’s so much more in our game and so many more possibilities. And there’s a lot of potential within this side, which is just so exciting to watch and so exciting to be a part of. So we’re always wanting to put on a performance for for the crowds for our families and everyone involved.”

“I think now I’ve got to the point on on my personal level that things are going to improve, things are going to get better, and the standard of the game has just gone and skyrocketed. So I think it’s really, really cool to see and really cool to be a part of.

“I think there’s obviously so much more to come from the game. I think if you think about the fans that are coming in now. 45,000 people 45,000 tickets sold (England vs Ireland – 2024 Women’s Six Nations). Yeah, it’s kind of hard to believe and take yourself back to those moments. It just feels like a whole different ballgame.”

The playing field is starting to fill out for the 2025 Women’s Rugby World Cup, and Ireland became the latest team to qualify for the tournament following the 2024 Women’s Six Nations. Headed up by former Red Roses coach Scott Bemand, Ireland impressed all onlookers in their victories over Wales and Scotland, which secured them a third place finish in the table.

Heard was certainly impressed by the improved Irish side, who had progressed up the rungs from being wooden spoon holders at the end of the 2023 Championships. Speaking on her expectations from Ireland, Heard sounded off the press conference excited to see the quality of competitiveness improve across the Northern Hemisphere nations.