Monday, May 27, 2024

Women’s Six Nations 2024: England face France in another Grand Slam decider

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Venue: Stade Chaban-Delmas, Bordeaux Date: Saturday, 27 April Kick-off: 16:45 BST
Coverage: Watch live on BBC One, BBC iPlayer and online; live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra; text commentary, highlights and report on BBC Sport website and app.

England’s dominant 14-try victory over Ireland in front of the second-highest women’s rugby crowd of 48,778 has set up a Grand Slam decider against France for the third year in a row.

Victory in Bordeaux on Saturday would secure a third successive Grand Slam and sixth Six Nations title in a row for the Red Roses.

The competitive nature of the tournament has lacked over recent years, with England romping to big victories, but the decider has always lived up to hype.

Only five points separated the sides at Twickenham in front of a record women’s crowd of 58,498 last year, 12 points were between the pair in Bayonne a year prior and four points in 2021.

The Red Roses have had the edge over their French rivals ever since their last Six Nations defeat in 2018, however, they have had to work for it.

Women’s Six Nations standings

France defeated Wales 40-0 in Cardiff on Sunday to keep their Grand Slam hopes alive.

Women's Six Nations table

England dominant, France not at best

John Mitchell’s side have scored 38 tries across their four dominant victories over Italy, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

They have amassed 228 points and only conceded 20. No-one has come close to defeating the Red Roses.

“We get our competitiveness in training, the girls really go at each other,” England forwards coach Louis Deacon told BBC TV.

On the other hand, things have not been as easy for the French. In Edinburgh they squeezed past Scotland 15-5, with the Scots leading for large portions of the game.

There were comfortable wins over Ireland, Italy and Wales, but the 2018 Six Nations winners have not been at their best.

“One thing that goes in France’s favour is that they have had some close games, some niggle and they have had to work,” England’s 2014 World Cup winner Kat Merchant told BBC’s Rugby Union Weekly podcast.

“England could have realistically played with 13 players and beaten every opposition they have faced so far.

“Going into France and not being switched on in that way, by not having a tough encounter, might just count against them.”

Goal-kicking has been an issue for England throughout the Six Nations and could be crucial in a tight title-deciding match. A much-improved performance from Holly Aitchison, who kicked nine out of 14 conversion attempts against Ireland, came at an important time.

Unpredictable France always a danger

France almost stunned England at Twickenham last year when they nearly completed an incredible 33-point second-half comeback.

Everything initially clicked for the Red Roses in attack as they scored five unanswered first-half tries and went in 33-0 up at the break.

But the game finished 38-33 as France cut loose in attack in the second period, scoring tries from all over the pitch – a warning before the game in Bordeaux to never write them off.

England’s defence under Sarah Hunter has been excellent in the Six Nations, conceding only 20 points and two tries.

Ireland offered very little creativity in attack at Twickenham to challenge Hunter’s defence, which could be tested properly for the first time in south-west France.

Discipline and attack vital for success

Despite one sin-bin to replacement scrum-half Lucy Packer at Twickenham, the Red Roses improved on their discipline after red cards to Sarah Beckett and Amy Cokayne against Italy and Scotland.

Mitchell wants his side to play on the edge in defence and understands that opens up the risk of cards for poor tackles, but getting the ball back quickly to launch attacks remains his number one priority.

With France’s ability to score tries from anywhere, if England overstep the line again they could finally be punished for their poor discipline for the first time in the competition.

Full-back Ellie Kildunne and winger Abby Dow both scored hat-tricks on Saturday in their side’s best attacking performance of the campaign, helped by the introduction of veteran attack coach Brian Ashton this week.

“Brian makes us ask questions – ‘if this is the picture, what is the easiest way that you can take the wins?” Dow said.

“I do think it is about asking those questions and having Brian Ashton available throughout the week. I absolutely adore the man.”

“The way he phrases things almost makes you rethink the philosophy of rugby.”

With Ashton’s involvement it could mean another high-scoring shootout between two teams who love attacking rugby.



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