England bidding to inflict major psychological blow on red-hot rivals France in TikTok Women's Six Nations

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England face France in a hotly-anticipated battle in BayonneEngland face France in a hotly-anticipated battle in Bayonne
England face France in a hotly-anticipated battle in Bayonne

By Paul Eddison

There is more than just the TikTok Women’s Six Nations title on the line when England take on France in Bayonne this weekend.

If the Red Roses can make it four successive titles they will strike a major psychological blow on their biggest rivals for the upcoming World Cup.

Not only that, victory will extend England’s run to ten consecutive wins over les Bleues, officially the world’s number three team but in reality the second.

This needs to be close – for credibility of the competition itself.

The majority of encounters in the Red Roses' nine-game winning streak in Crunches, dating back to 2018, have been tight. England have needed some unlikely comebacks for wins in Exeter – a last-gasp Lydia Thompson try – and Twickenham – an Emily Scarratt penalty at the death.

The overriding feeling from the first four rounds of this year’s tournament is that England have opened up a gap over their rivals. Both teams have four bonus-point wins to their names but England have run in 42 tries, more than double their hosts’ tally, conceding just ten points.

Where the Red Roses are fully professional, France’s players are on 75% contracts, and the difference in competitiveness in the respective domestic leagues is stark.

When England head coach Simon Middleton says that facing France in France is the toughest task in women’s rugby, he is probably not wrong, and yet England head to the Basque Country as overwhelming favourites.

France have some standout performers, scrum-half Laure Sansus might just be the best player in the competition, while giant second row Madoussou Fall offers the kind of impact that few can match.

But what England’s professional set-up provides is unrivalled depth. It is why they are able to pull clear of opponents regularly in the second half of games, something the French have been unable to do so far in this campaign.

Even without skipper Sarah Hunter, ruled out with a rib injury, England do not look weakened, with named skipper Scarratt not only staking a claim as one of England’s best-ever players but also comfortable in a leadership role. It helps that Poppy Cleall has shaken off the calf injury that threatened her participation.

Middleton said: “We are all disappointed for Sarah Hunter on missing the game due to injury. If it was up to Sarah she would have played but she was not medically available for selection. I’m pleased she’s able to join us over in France to support preparations.

“At the same time, it gives us another opportunity to test our leadership depth in the most pressurised of situations and to that end we are in good hands with Emily Scarratt leading the side.”

The two teams have been drawn in the same pool at the World Cup in New Zealand later this year, and could yet meet again in the final depending on how the results play out.

So for Middleton this is the sort of occasion that his players should embrace, rather than shy away from.

He added: “I suspect everyone looked at this fixture at the start of the Six Nations and singled it out as a potential decider, well that’s what we’ve come to. France have been in great form during the campaign but so have we.

“As a staff group, we are massively proud of the way the players have attacked this competition, we challenge them every day to be the best they can be in everything they do both on and off the field and they have risen to the challenge as one.

“Saturday will not define us as a team but there’s no hiding away from the fact that so much is riding on the game. That’s fine by us, we want that level of challenge, otherwise how do you realise your potential and prove your worth?

“Matches against France are always tight affairs. We know this one will be no different. I believe it will come down to which squad can maintain their intensity and focus, something we have done well in this competition.”

The TikTok Women’s Six Nations is more accessible than ever before. To find out how you can watch the Women’s Championship visit: womens.sixnationsrugby.com/tv/

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