Though she has been there and done almost everything in the women’s game, this year’s Six Nations has a different feel about it for England number 8 Cath Spencer.
For the past three seasons she has been the leader for the squad, captaining England to three Six Nations titles and to the World Cup final. This time though, as the ex-captain, life before and on match days is a lot different.
Making the decision to hang up the captains armband she says was hugely difficult but has given her more relaxed life balance.
I had been captain for over three years and I loved it and enjoyed it but it was time to hand it over. It wasnt a decision I reached lightly but really I wanted to focus on my own game.
Spencer adds that new skipper Katy McLean is an excellent replacement.
Katy was one of the first people I spoke to after I stepped down as at the time she was vice captain. I had no idea at that stage what the decision would be about who would take over but I was very happy for her. Ive seen her mature into a very strong leader over the years and obviously in her position shes making key decisions in matches all the time. I told her when she was appointed that I would be there for her as much or as little as she wanted. I am supporting her but dont want to get in her way either!
Being a regular squad player she says has many positives.
Its a lot more laid back definitely. When youre captain youve got to be on the ball with everything on a match-day and youre across everything thats happening on and off the pitch. One very positive thing is that I am a lot less tired after games. I am a lot more chilled out now and I can just concentrate on me. I have had a really good rugby career but I still feel I can get better as a player and focusing on just my game will allow me to do that.
Spencer is vying for the number 8 berth every match now with Sarah Hunter and coach Gary Street has mixed up his selections for the key position every game.
Its a little different now for me and we have such a competitive backrow at the moment that the challenge for a staring spot is really strong. Ive played with Sarah when she played at 6 before but obviously now Heather Fisher is playing brilliantly so shes in there and I have been in and out at number 8.To be honest Id see as it as all four of us working together. We have different strengths and it works as a balance.
England have had a good season so far, showing no real signs of a World Cup hangover, with Spencer involved in every game so far.
Wales was a tough game on a pretty boggy pitch in wet weather in the first match though I am a bit old fashioned so I quite liked it to be honest. It was an enjoyable game and then the Italy game a week after was totally different. In that game we were all really pleased that our game plan was executed so well and we ran in some good tries.
France probably wasnt the best game in terms of quality but it was a good win.
With England looking likely to secure a sixth title in a row in a couple of weeks time, the Six Nations title at the moment is far too easy for England, who may well argue that they face tough games, but apart from France they are not being pushed hard enough to help them make the leap they need to go on and win World Cup titles.
Spencer agrees that a more competitive Six Nations, and a consistently strong French side in particular, is better for England.
We obviously want to win every match we play but we also do want close, competitive, tough matches. I think this France team could be really really strong in a year or so. They pushed us all the way last week and they have had a very strong A team for a while. They have a couple of players in their backs who look really outstanding. I thought their fullback last week was excellent and she was their best player and their centres are very handy as well.
Its hard to talk to Spencer, who won her 60th cap two weeks ago, without reverting back to that dark day for her side last September when her team lost the World Cup Final.
For her part, she can still clearly recall the emotion felt.
It was very difficult. I was starting a new job in October so I had three weeks off after the competition. I basically went to stay with my parents in Kent and was looked after. My emotions were mixed but I was pretty much gutted we had lost the final and I was very depressed. As time went on that emotion moved onto being immensely proud of everything we had achieved and the fact that we did such a good job as ambassadors for the game.
I was lucky that this job (as a Women's Rugby Development Manager for the RFUW) came up at the right time. My interview took place after a really hard England camp wherein which sleep deprivation played a role so I wasnt sure how I had got on! Its a tough job but I feel lucky to be involved in rugby and be giving something back to the game."
Spencer (pictured above playing for Bristol) turns 32 in May and says that another World Cup isnt something she is contemplating at the moment.
Thats a long way down the line and I honestly have no idea at the moment how long more I will be playing. The next World Cup seems a long way away and I will take each season as it comes.
Though Scotland this weekend seem unlikely to be able to cause any major upset at Twickenham, Spencer is relishing another chance to play there.
Ive played there a few times now and its always a big honour. We are not too sure what to expect from this Scotland side but we are not complacent. I would urge as many fans as people to come down and support as it's another big stage for the women's game which is building our profile all the time.