TOP international rugby is heading to the region – and two of the stars aiming to shine are local heroes.
Darlington will stage an England v Scotland double header on Friday March 13, featuring two World Cup-winning sides.
England U20 and England Ladies, both reigning global champions, will take on their Scottish counterparts at the Northern Echo Arena.
And the skipper and vice-captain of the England Ladies are South Tyneside legends with over 150 caps between them – Tamara Taylor and Katy Mclean.
If selected they are both keen to stress, they will spearhead the national side on their home Darlington Mowden Park pitch.
Mclean led England to World Cup glory last August but admits running out at the Arena in the RBS 6 Nations is a “dream come true”.
“I’m a proud South Shields girl but I never thought I’d see the day there would be an international in the north,” she told the Gazette.
“I thought one day we may reach the midlands but to come here is special.
“International rugby has always been predominantly London-based but now I have the chance to play at my come ground is a dream come true.
“I play here on Sundays for Mowden but, hopefully, I’m now going to get to pull on the white shirt and run out here on March 13.”
The 29-year-old admits it has been a “crazy time” since leading England to glory against Canada in last August’s world Final in France.
Mclean left the job she loved at Bexhill Academy in Sunderland to become a full-time professional.
She missed the opening weekend of the RBS 6 Nations tournament because she was playing for the England side in a World Sevens series event in Rio de Janiero!
“Sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure it’s all true,” said England’s vice-captain.
“I can’t believe the last six months, winning the World Cup then re-locating to Guildford and becoming a full-time professional.
“I was never sure I would get the chance to play professional rugby.
“Being 29, I thought it might be something for the younger girls and not me, but to be doing this and have the possibility of going to the Olympics is amazing.
“Playing in the 6 Nations is special as a rugby player and I can’t wait to play here.”
Mclean’s World Sevens commitments meant the captain’s armband has been passed on - but only as far as her Mowden and England comrade Taylor.
The 33-year-old, who coaches Jarrovians, said: “The proposition to run out at our home ground in an England shirt makes the double header event an amazing prospect.
“There are a lot of local girls in the England squad and we hope the entire region gets behind the occasion.
“I might not be from the north by birth, but I’ve lived up here for over a decade so I call it home, I see myself as an adopted North-Easterner.”
Tickets for the double header are only £10 (adults) and £5 (U16s) and group bookings and discounts are available. Contact 01325 350267 during office hours for more details.