|Venue: Twickenham Stoop Date: Saturday, 24 April Kick-off: 14:00 BST|
|Coverage: Watch live on BBC Two, iPlayer and online; listen on BBC Radio 5 Live and follow live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app.|
Poppy Cleall has put in some talismanic performances for England during the Women’s Six Nations.
But arguably one of her most innovative Red Roses contributions has been off the field – as the co-founder of the England camp’s tuck shop.
The ‘BP Garage’ – the B representing prop Hannah Botterman and the P Cleall’s first name – offers snacks and drinks delivered directly to players’ doors in the team hotel.
“People drop us a message with what they want and their room number,” Cleall explained on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Rugby Union Weekly.
“We put it outside their room and leave so it is all Covid secure. Everything gets sanitised. We bill them once a week on a Sunday, they get their bill through their door.
“After a heavy day of training or post-match it is really popular.”
The idea came about because England have been training and playing in a coronavirus bubble, ruling out any trips to the shops.
“Two weeks into camp, we were thinking about the sort of thing we’d be pining for,” Cleall continued.
“It was basically chocolate and probably little bags of crisps. We thought we’d get a few and see if the girls wanted to share them with us. It proved quite popular.
“Bots [Botterman] is the face of the brand. She does all the selling, wheeler-dealing and puts all the offers on.
“I’m there crunching the numbers and making sure we have enough stock.”
‘My own opinion is the only one I listen to’
Although Cleall’s business venture has “not got out of the red just yet”, no-one could deny the 28-year-old’s success on the pitch this year.
As well as helping Saracens to the top of the Premier 15s table, Cleall won player of the match in England’s opening Women’s Six Nations game against Scotland and elicited high praise from head coach Simon Middleton.
Middleton said Cleall was one of the best players in the world after that match and, when he named her as his starting number eight for Saturday’s final, the England head coach continued his praise.
“Her understanding of the game is pretty phenomenal,” Middleton said.
“Poppy has got a really good all-round game. Physically she is in the best shape she has ever been and that has translated onto the field.”
Cleall – whose twin Bryony recently returned from injury to join her in the England team – says such things are “kind of nice to hear”.
However, she’s not letting the plaudits go to her head.
“My own opinion is the only one I really listen to – actually that and my dad’s,” she says.
As for being at the top of her game physically, that has been an unexpected benefit of lockdown after initially struggling to train alone at home.
Players sent videos of their work to strength and conditioning coaches and would get feedback on their technique and this accountability for her own training helped Cleall work harder than she had before.
“I’m shocked I’ve come out in any kind of good shape,” she adds.
“I think it’s just my application. Before I would follow a six-week programme for four weeks and fall off for the last two.
“[During lockdown] you were completely accountable for what you did. There was no-one there to help you or make you do it.
“That added responsibility onto me as an athlete and coming out of it I am applying myself better.”
Replacing captain ‘is not awkward’
The World Cup has now been postponed until 2022 but Cleall’s name will surely still be one of the first on Middleton’s team-sheet when it comes round.
As well as her impressive form, Cleall offers plenty of versatility having played prop, lock, flanker and number eight.
On Saturday, she will pack down at the back of the scrum instead of England captain Hunter, meaning centre Emily Scarratt will lead the side.
Taking your captain’s place in the team may be an uncomfortable position to find yourself in, but Cleall says she has received nothing but support from Hunter.
“We are quite good friends in camp so it’s never been awkward,” she explains.
“It’s always about getting the team in the best place so she is 100% supportive to all of us in the forwards, doing everything she can to make sure we are in the best place.
“I’m really excited to be playing eight this weekend but I’m also excited to see what people like Sarah Hunter and Harriet Millar-Mills can do off the bench to win us the game, because that’s their job.”
‘Great game’ expected against ‘tough’ France
Cleall and England will be aiming for a third successive Six Nations title, having won back-to-back Grand Slams in the last two years.
This time there is no Grand Slam on offer because of a new format as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead, England and France will be playing in the first Women’s Six Nations final.
The Red Roses face a France side who looked unforgiving in a 53-0 win against Wales before beating Ireland 56-15 in the pool stage.
Cleall may have been expecting to come up against Emeline Gros, who has also been in exciting form all tournament.
But the France number eight has sustained a shoulder injury and is replaced by Romane Menager in the only change to the side that won at Donnybrook.
England will have to be particularly wary of Les Bleus’ impressive back three in Emilie Boulard, Cyrielle Banet and Caroline Boujard – but Cleall says threats could come from anywhere in the France squad.
“They are so skilful,” she said. “They’re athletes. They’re tough and it is going to be a great game.”
Women’s Six Nations final line-ups
England: McKenna; Breach, Scarratt (capt), Harrison, Dow; Rowland, Riley; Cornborough, Davies, Brown, Ward, O’Donnell, Aldcroft, Packer, P Cleall.
Replacements: Cokayne, Harper, B Cleall, Millar-Mills, Hunter, MacDonald, Tuima, Kildunne.
France: Boulard; Banet, Neisen, Ulutule, Boujard; Drouin, Sansus; Deshaye, Sochat, Bernadou, Fall, N’Diaye, Mayans, Hermet (capt), Menager.
Replacements: Touye, Traore, Joyeux, Corson, Diallo, Bourdon, Peyronnet, Tremouliere.