"Another Skill to My Belt" - England Back-Row Sadia Kabeya Talks Her New Attacking Role & Red Roses Milestones - Ruck

“Another Skill to My Belt” – England Back-Row Sadia Kabeya Talks Her New Attacking Role & Red Roses Milestones

The Red Roses are set for their second round match in the 2024 Guinness Women’s Six Nations, as they take on Wales tomorrow afternoon at Ashton Gate. England come into the match strong, off the back of a landslide 48-0 win over Italy, despite playing the majority of the fixture with 14 players following Sarah Beckett’s eleventh minute sending off.

One key Red Rose who made her return in the triumphant trip to Parma, back-row Sadia Kabeya shone on her comeback to the England squad with a solid run out on the blindside flank. Despite prominently playing on the open-side of the scrum for Loughborough Lightning in the PWR, Kabeya is testing out her skillset in the six jersey, having made way for captain Marlie Packer in the seven shirt. The biggest change for the back-rower has been her newfound involvement in the line-out, having previously watched on from the back-line, in what has added an important string to her back-row bow.

Player of the Match Sadia Kabeya of England Women celebrates with the Womens Six Nations Trophy during the TikTok Womens Six Nations Match between England Women and France Women at Twickenham, London on 29 April 2023 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

“The last six nations and coming into that line-out role, kind of for the first time in an England shirt, was kind of much a surprise for me, a lot to learn, a lot to take in. But by the end of the tournament, I felt really comfortable there. And it allowed me actually to be able to play with Marlie at the same time. Obviously, you have two sevens, you never normally have them on the pitch at the same time, or let alone on the same team sheet.

“So to be able to have that extra role, that extra skills, going in the line out and allow me to play with Marlie, it’s been really good. I think the coaches are like that, with combinations for different names as well. So yeah, I think for me, it’s just been you know, about kind of broadening my skill-set. And also, you know, if I do eventually end up going back to that seven shirt, I’ve got another skill to my belt as well.”

Another altercation on Kabeya’s England performances has been a push out to the wide channels, when the Red Roses get onto the front foot for an attack. The Loughborough star is certainly more than just ‘Lightning’ by name, as her pace is utilised around the edges of the defence, yet Kabeya still enjoys a thunderous collision into a hapless outside back.

“That has been a new role for me, being on the edge. I’m trying to stay with the backs a bit more whether I can, you know, hit through the middle or go round on the edges, which is quite fun. For me It’s a new skill, like at club, I’m used to just being in the middle of the pitch and I think that’s where I feel kind of comfortable. So being outside of your comfort zone, it’s been great for me to be able to push that part of my game.

“But also, picking up a mismatch against a back is really fun as well. When you run hard and straight at a back, it is always fun, maybe not for them, but for me it is! I think I’m slowly coming into that role now, I think you’ll be seeing me out there a bit more broadly for the rest of the tournament. So yeah, it’s been going well.”

Going back to her Red Roses captain, and Kabeya discussed the immense adulation that Packer received upon her 100th test cap last weekend. The Saracen led from the front as England achieved a one-sided win in Parma, and was duly awarded with the gold England cap to mark her century of appearances in the England shirt. Speaking from both a back-row’s perspective, and off that of a teammate and friend, Kabeya discussed Packer’s efforts that culminated out in Italy.

“I think Marlie, as a captain and as a player, she’s quite level headed. I think even having 100 caps, it was a lot of attention on her for that day. She took it really well, obviously, it had been not only the start of Six Nations, our first game, but she was also getting her 100th cap, which is a huge, huge achievement.

“I think she’s really glad that it’s kind of out of the way now, and should could go and focus on the rest of the tournament, and focus on Wales. Now she’s really focused on the challenge at hand, which is Wales, but I think from week to week, she’s always really laser focused on who we’re playing and what she’s about to do.”

Whilst one Red Roses milestone passes, another player gets set to make a significant appearence the following weekend. Tomorrow, lock Zoe Aldcroft will run out for her 50th England cap, yet the Gloucester-Hartpury star is eager to keep things under wraps until the final whistle. Kabeya admitted how the second row is not somebody that relishes in the spotlight of a significant occasion, and will be trying to put all the significance of the day to one side, before finally enjoying the milestone after the match.

Zoe Aldcroft of England Red Roses before the international friendly match between England Red Roses and Canada women at Sandy Park, Exeter on 23rd Sept 2023. Photo: Izzy Ninnis/PPAUK

“Zoe is definitely not a spotlight person. So I think she’ll just kind of keep it under wraps. Probably until the day of the game, but Zoe Aldcroft, she’s such a leader up in the England squad and I think she shows that week in, week out, you know, and training her standard never drops.

“On the game days, I think she always shows up. So I think for her, the squad is incredibly proud of her as well. But she’s really come into a leadership role over the passed four seasons with England, be it with through vice captain, I think she’s someone who leads by example, leads by her actions more so than what she says.

“So I think on the day, there’ll be a lot of celebrations, you know, being able to receive that cap but also, I think the team will really come around her after the game. You don’t want too much attention pre-game.”

Sadia Kabeya of England Women Rugby (Loughborough Lightning, 3 caps) before the England Women Rugby and USA WomenÕs Rugby at Sandy Park on 3 Sept 2022. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK.

Another member of England’s impressive back-row ranks that had a memorable run in Italy, was new-coming Exeter Chiefs talent Maddie Feaunati. The back-rower made her England debut against the Azzurri by replacing the centurion Packer off the bench, and impressed all onlookers to earn herself another spot amongst the replacements for this second round Six Nations match against Wales. Speaking on Feaunati’s impressive rise to the Red Roses match day squad, Kabeya said;

“Maddie has kind of slipped into the squad really seamlessly, it must be really daunting coming in, you know, quite soon and then going and having her first cap and it’s a lot of information to kind of pick up. So for me and for the rest of the back-row, I think it was about being those friendly faces and then to be there for any chats about moves or line-outs and stuff like that, and to get her up to speed before the game.

“But she’s a really, really chill, calm collected person when it comes to rugby. I think when she came on for her debut, I can tell that she knew where she needed to be, is to be, especially being down to 13 people as well, your role kind of changed a little bit. But I think for her she really knew where she needs to be at the right times. She had a few good carriers and a few good tackles. I think it’s really exciting for her, I think she showed a lot of capabilities for test rugby, and then start seeing where she can go as well. It’s nice to have that kind of new competition in there too.”

“Hopefully, there won’t be any random changes in the game, so she is coming into the position that she knows (against Wales). I think you only get better the more you play, especially in an England shirt and in the new environment for her. So I think she’ll be excited to get the ground running again. I think that’s what we are excited to see, what she can do.”

Turning her attention from teammates to opponents, Kabeya is eyeing up this Saturday’s battle with Wales with great anticipation. The stage is set for an all-star game of Premiership Women’s Rugby talents, as Ioan Cunningham’s Welsh squad is brimming with stars from the English top division. Kabeya believes that this familiarity with the Wales players will only benefit the England performance, yet she recognises how the acquaintanceship goes both ways heading into the battle of Bristol.

“Yeah, I think across the team, we’ve played against the majority of the Wales team, in the Prem! So I think we’re quite well knowledged and versed on what players to look out for. You’ve got Alex Callender who will be all over the breakdowns, Bethan Lewis, that back row being quite a pair of menaces across the pitch.

“You kind of know who and where to watch out for, Sisilia Tuipulotu being a huge carrier. So when you see her, you know, you’ve got to line her up and chop low and get her down. So I think, it’s kind of the fun being able to play against these players in the PWR. Because when you come up against them internationally, you know each other’s strengths, you know, each other’s weaknesses, and it’s about who can break this down further. So, not necessarily any (England) individual saying, but I think as a collective, we’re quite well versed with who we’re coming up against.”

In last year’s Anglo-Welsh clash in the Women’s Six Nations, it was Wales who had the stronger start as the two sides met over the dragon guarded end of the Severn Bridge. The opening 20 minutes was firmly to the control of Wales, however a retaliating Red Roses side soon rallied back, and racked up a heavy 59-3 win. England fans witnessed a similarly slow start last weekend against Italy, as it took the Red Roses half an hour before beginning their points tally in Parma.

Kabeya discussed how England are keen to get off to a hot start at Ashton Gate, with the aim of kicking into their revered top gear in the early goings. The back-row explained how she expects some ‘gamesmanship’ qualities from the Welsh players, yet believes that these distractive tactics will not sway the Red Roses on their road to victory.

“I think we’re very focused on on going out hard against Wales, in that first 20 minutes. We know that they are a side that is going to come out the blocks really, really hard, all guns blazing, doing whatever they can to disrupt us and that’s what they did last year. I think last year was the tightest, the least amount of points we scored on them in the past couple games that you’ve had. So clearly, they’ve been getting a lot better.

“We know exactly what’s coming, but it’s about how we do it on the day, because you can’t really plan for if they are going after every single breakdown, or them targeting one player in terms of our 10, we don’t really know what’s going to come there. But I think for us, it’s going to be about building that pressure, I think in the game it will be who breaks pressure first and for England, obviously that’s what we’re hoping to do.

“So I think in that first 20 minutes stuff about you know, going at them not kind of rising too much over their… not negativity, but they a team that like to (have) gamesmanship. Because England are not really necessarily that much like that as a side, but Wales certainly are. But do and to kind of rise into it, and you know, how to play it and how we’re reacting to maybe any negatives, how we’re reacting to those positives, and really, really building on that. So I think, we know what’s coming, but it’s just going to be who’s going to break that pressure first.”