I think the Red Roses are confident that they are capable of beating France this weekend. They have done so twice recently, in the Super Series last summer and in the recent Old Mutual Wealth Series. However, this match will potentially be a decider for the Six Nations, and you can never usually say that for the first game of the tournament.
It’s incredibly important to get a World Cup year off to a good start too, it will give England huge confidence. In 2014 when we won the World Cup we didn’t win that Six Nations, and I do think if we had won the tournament we would have gone into the World Cup feeling more confident. Any advantage you can gain in a World Cup year, the better.
There’s a balance of nerves but also excitement on the eve of a Six Nations. It’s an opportunity to start a campaign well. Staff and players become so patriotic, the Six Nations always seems to bring it out of you.
I personally always felt more excitement than nerves, it was an opportunity to represent my country five times in such a prestigious championship. You play for that incredible trophy with the hope of a Grand Slam. I used to love it.
The first game can be nerve-racking because the last time the team would have ran out together would have been in the autumn, so you would want to settle into a rhythm as soon as possible.
My first game against France was in England in the 2005 Six Nations when I was 21-years-old. Nothing has changed since then, they are always such a competitive side. Yes they’ve got a physical pack but they have such fast-running backs too.
They play at such a high paced tempo, but they also try things you wouldn’t on a rugby pitch. Some of their offload attempts, looped passes into space and kicks through are incredible. You don’t expect them to attempt these bits of skill and that’s why they are so hard to play against.
One of the toughest matches I have ever played in was against France in France in the 2010 Six Nations. We beat them, but only just and by a single point. Their fly half missed a kick on the final whistle, and as a result we won the game, but it almost felt like we had lost.
Playing France in France was always tough but that day they simply outplayed us in all areas. We didn’t react to their attacking play well, they were throwing everything at us. It was a huge crowd that day too of over 10,000 or so fans. It was extremely cold but the French were living off the atmosphere inside the stadium. We won, but looking back they were the better team and perhaps unfortunate not to win that day.
I think the game will be won and lost in the set pieces. The French are very strong at all aspects of the set piece, their forwards are always pretty dominant in the scrum.
Their main try-scoring threat is the catch and drive, usually from five metres out! When they get a roll on it’s very hard to stop and it’s generally their strength all over the pitch. In terms of who wins the battle of the set piece, the team that comes out on top is likely to be victorious.
For me their key player is Safi N’Diaye, I would compare her to Billy Vunipola in the way she plays. She’s a very strong ball carrier but offloads so well too. She’s a player that England did well to contain last time around, so if they can do that again it will give them a great chance. She’s a very dangerous player, so if the Red Roses can nullify her it will be a key area for them to capitalise on.
To play at Twickenham is amazing for many reasons, firstly the history that goes with the venue. As you walk out onto the pitch you think about all the moments of rugby that have been played in the stadium.
Secondly, the crowd, it completely blows you away. You hear everything because of the acoustics in the stadium, so when the crowd sing the anthem the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.
Thirdly, when you have the opportunity to play the same day as the men, you feel like you are England together. You congratulate the men as they walk off the pitch and they wish you the best for the match. That’s a really powerful feeling, especially if they’ve won. It gives you such confidence that you can do the same!