|Venue: Twickenham Stadium Date: Monday, 27 December Kick-off: 14:15 GMT|
When Jess Breach scored six tries on her England debut in 2017, it seemed clear she was one to watch for the next World Cup.
Four years ago, the wing may have been willing to look that far ahead – but after a nightmare seven months during which she was plagued by injury, Breach has learned her lesson on that front.
After five months out with an ankle issue, the 24-year-old felt optimistic as she played two games with Harlequins and prepared for England’s autumn fixtures.
But later in October, the England star broke her back in training.
Breach, who is set to make her return from injury for Harlequins’ ‘Big Game’ against Wasps on Monday, says she “didn’t want to be dramatic” when the injury happened, but admits “it could have been” a life-or-death situation.
“Nobody knew how bad it was going to be,” she tells BBC Sport.
“I just thought ‘I’ve got a dead back’, like you get a dead calf or dead quads. But then I couldn’t really move or walk so I had to go to A&E.”
‘I had to celebrate small wins’
Breach says “quite a scary three weeks” followed and instead of focusing on beating world champions New Zealand as her England team-mates were, she had to “celebrate small wins”.
The Quins flier was content when she could pick something up off the floor again, and was overjoyed when she could walk without pain and begin to lift weights.
“It was just small, everyday things that you think you can do when actually it can be a challenge to some people,” she says.
Breach adds that her “full heart and focus” is now on next year’s World Cup in New Zealand.
Fighting for a place in England’s competitive back three as they aim for a fourth Six Nations title in a row is also on her radar, but coming through such a tumultuous year has offered perspective.
“It’s been pretty stressful,” she explains. “I’m glad to have come out the other side.
“After my ankle, I was definitely fine and thought I’ll play loads of games. After this injury I’m definitely going to take every game as it comes for the foreseeable future.”
Return ‘has been a long time coming’
The first of those games comes against Wasps at Twickenham on Monday, with Harlequins men playing at the same venue later that day as part of the club’s annual ‘Big Game’.
Last time Breach faced Wasps, in May’s Premier 15s semi-final, she injured her ankle after making a try-saving tackle, having earlier scored a sublime try.
The wing then watched the final on crutches as Quins claimed their first domestic title against Saracens.
Having missed out on that piece of history, as well as England’s record wins against New Zealand in November, Breach is looking forward to reaching a new women’s rugby milestone with Harlequins as they play their first competitive fixture at Twickenham.
Quins and Sarries have historically dominated the Premier 15s, but this season is the tightest yet. Victory against Wasps could put Breach’s side second, while defeat would see them out of the play-off places at the halfway stage.
With Wasps able to get as high as third if they win, Breach promises an “exciting” game as two impressive backlines go head to head.
“The Big Game is a huge occasion,” she says. “For me to make my return will be even more exciting. It’s been a long time coming.”