With England and France kicking off the penultimate round of the Women’s Six Nations this Saturday evening in Grenoble, this match is set to be a decisive title decider. Knowing first hand what it’s like to play rugby in France in front of a vociferous French crowd, and what is at stake for both teams, this match truly deserves top billing across both the men’s and women’s Six Nations this weekend.
Here are my thoughts on the key areas of the game which will prove decisive in who comes out on top.
1) THE SET PIECE
England’s scrum has been fairly strong, but I am yet to witness a completely dominant display from them. Are they saving their best for France? France are not a pack short of size and weight so that first scrum will definitely set the tone.
Saturday will be also be about using brain over brawn and being technically savvy. England must focus their efforts on tight-head prop Julie Duval. At 71kg and 5ft 3inch she is a lightweight and someone Vickki Cornborough, Amy Cokayne and Sarah Bern will want to target.
France are inconsistent in the scrum and against Scotland this was evident. They got pushed back on a number of occasions. When defending, the backrow didn’t seem to want to scrum, instead they were poised ready to tackle the opposition 8. This can be a risky way to play. If it comes off, they stop the 8 in their tracks. If it doesn’t, then their scrum is vulnerable to being turned over with five people pushing against eight.
The lineout has not been France’s friend. It’s the one area where they have not functioned well. I blame it on a mixture of new personnel and poor execution. When they have got the driving maul going it has been unstoppable though and Agathe Sochat has scored a couple of good tries off it. England must stop the maul at its source. Abbie Scott and Tamara Taylor will have a big job on their hands. They must fracture the French formation and pressurise the throw to create self-doubt throughout the French rank.
2) THE BREAKDOWN
Scotland’s men out thought England at the breakdown in round three. How? Because they had a quick backrow who knew how to pick their moments. France women have a very similar backrow balance to that of Scotland’s men. They basically have three No7s; Romane Menager, Marjorie Mayans and Gaelle Hermet. All are quick and are hungry for the ball and England must have their wits about them and be accurate with their clear-outs.
France don’t tend to throw a lot of players into the breakdown to secure their ball. Scotland and Ireland spotted this and counter-rucked France off the ball. If England have done their homework, then I will expect Marlie Packer and Poppy Cleall to have a field day on Saturday disrupting any clean ball France get.
3) THE DEFENCE
I truly believe a good defence can win you games and France have an aggressive one. They fly out of the blocks looking to make the big hit. I expect them to target Katy Daley-Mclean. She runs the show and if they can cut off the supply of ball she gives to Ellie Kildunne, Danielle Waterman and Abigail Dow then they will have a tight grip on the game. England must vary their attack, utilise the cross-field kick and grubber through to keep the defence honest and stop them flying.
What England CANNOT do is be disjointed in their defence. The French half-back pairing of Caroline Drouin and Pauline Bourdon both like to show and go. They also love to play the ariel game and look for the cross-filed kick. France also have a dangerous back three in Jessy Tremouliere, Cyrielle Banet and Caroline Boujard who can attack from anywhere on the field. A poor kick chase and they will punish you. The French love to attack a broken field and have scored some brilliant tries because of it courtesy of Jade Le Pesq.
What France and England have in common though is they both have high penalty counts. In England’s last game against Scotland, England had two players yellow carded. France also had a player sin binned twice in the last two games. Both teams will need to be whiter than white with referee Joy Neville controlling the game.
The French fullback Jessy Tremouliere also has an almighty boot and when it’s on target she rarely misses. Katy Daley-Mclean has also found her kicking boots and is now in a groove. I can’t wait to see these two go toe to toe on Saturday! Watch it live with me on Saturday Sky Sport Mix and Action, Kick off 8pm.