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Women’s Six Nations: What to expect from the tournament


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Women’s Six Nations: What to expect from the tournament

Women’s Six Nations captains Siwan Lillicrap, Gaelle Hermet, Sarah Hunter, Giada Franco, Ciara Griffin and Rachel MalcolmWomen’s Six Nations ChampionshipDates: 2 February-15 MarchCoverage: Watch live coverage of selected games on BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport’s digital platforms, highlights on BBC Two and online; listen to match commentaries and podcasts on BBC Radio 5 live, Sports…

Women’s Six Nations: What to expect from the tournament

Women's Six Nations captains Siwan Lillicrap, Gaelle Hermet, Sarah Hunter, Giada Franco, Ciara Griffin and Rachel Malcolm

Women’s Six Nations captains Siwan Lillicrap, Gaelle Hermet, Sarah Hunter, Giada Franco, Ciara Griffin and Rachel Malcolm
Women’s Six Nations Championship
Dates: 2 February-15 March
Coverage: Watch live coverage of selected games on BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport’s digital platforms, highlights on BBC Two and online; listen to match commentaries and podcasts on BBC Radio 5 live, Sports Extra and BBC Sounds; follow text updates on the BBC Sport website and mobile app. Full coverage details.

England are favourites to win a second successive Grand Slam and start this year’s tournament away against France on 2 February.

But the Six Nations may not be top priority for some teams with Ireland, Italy and Scotland set to compete in a World Cup qualification tournament in September.

There are 18 months to go until the World Cup in New Zealand for which England, Wales and France have already secured their place after finishing in the top seven in 2017’s edition.

In the meantime, we have got the Six Nations to keep us entertained. Here is everything you need to know about each team in the tournament, as well as predictions from the hosts of new women’s episodes of BBC Radio 5 Live’s Rugby Union Weekly podcast: Sara Orchard and Philippa Tuttiett.

England

Won the Grand Slam last year

England finished the 2019 Women’s Six Nations with a points difference of 233

England dominated last year’s tournament – the first since 28 Red Roses were given full-time contracts.

A group of 28 were again offered deals in September and England’s professional set-up may well prove to be the undoing of their opponents again.

Injuries to several key players, including flanker Marlie Packer, mean there are two new faces in the England squad: Loughborough Lightning teenagers Amelia Harper and Morwenna Talling.

“We’re expecting a difficult Championship,” captain Sarah Hunter told Rugby Union Weekly. “We’ve got three away games – that’s pretty tough in itself. I suspect it will be slightly different to last year.”

Predictions

Sara: First. Much depends on the opening game away in France but having beaten Les Bleues four times last year you feel momentum is on the Red Roses’ side. However any injuries to senior players might derail this and test the depth of Middleton’s squad.

Philippa: First. The reigning champions have now been professional for a year. We think we’ve seen them at their best but I think they are only just warming up. They need to blood players in key positions like 10 and 15 to create the squad depth that will be so vital at the World Cup.

Ireland

Finished fifth last year

Ireland’s only win of the 2019 Women’s Six Nations came against Scotland

Ireland are one of the three Six Nations teams who will be focusing on World Cup qualification in the autumn but they will hope for a better performance this year after winning just one match in 2019’s tournament.

Adam Griggs’ side do at least have three home games this time around and can take further hope from their performance against Wales in November, where they were only just denied victory by a late Welsh try.

And home wins are the priority for captain Ciara Griffin, who said last season’s Six Nations results were “gut-wrenching”.

“Every time you go out in a green jersey you want to win,” she added. “We’re working hard this year. Our target is to improve on last year and win the three home games.”

Predictions

Sara: Third. With World Cup qualification in September weighing on Irish minds, a strong Six Nations is vital. Making their ground Donnybrook a fortress should be their baseline for success.

Philippa: Fifth. Ireland’s squad has gone through some significant changes and the focus seems to be more towards developing depth for their World Cup qualifier at the end of the year. They may be more focused on improving and gelling as a team rather than playing to win.

Scotland

Finished sixth last year

Scotland coach Philip Doyle guided Ireland Women to their first Grand Slam in 2013

Also chasing a World Cup spot in September, Scotland will look to improve on last year’s Six Nations performance which saw them lose all five of their games, scoring just seven tries in total.

Captain Rachel Malcolm says the side has “grown up” since then and it certainly looked that way as they secured a 36-12 away victory against Spain earlier in January.

“Our big aim is World Cup qualifiers in September,” explained Malcolm. “It’s more about performances and improving every game, being more consistent and closing the gap against better sides.”

Predictions

Sara: Sixth. Green shoots are appearing for Scotland’s women with a strong performance recently in a friendly with Spain, but Rome was not built in a day and reducing the deficit and finding consistency is more likely their goal.

Philippa: Third. With Philip Doyle already having an effect on the team, I think Scotland could have a good season. More of their players than ever before are benefiting from playing in the Tyrrells Premier 15s in England and in the French league.

Wales

Finished fourth last year

Wales lost to the Barbarians at the Principality Stadium in November

Like England, Wales already know they will be competing in the World Cup thanks to their seventh-place finish at the 2017 tournament.

But there has been some confusion surrounding their Six Nations preparations with coach Rowland Phillips remaining absent and little explanation from the Welsh Rugby Union.

Chris Horsman, Geraint Lewis and Gareth Wyatt take charge of the side and Horsman says they are using the Six Nations as a chance to build a squad for 2021, with experienced forwards Carys Phillips – Rowland’s daughter – and Sioned Harries omitted.

“It’s the same as the autumn. We’ve got the same coaching staff,” said captain Siwan Lillicrap.

“We’re buying into everything the management and coaches are trying to do. Team morale is very good at the moment. I haven’t felt anything but positivity from the squad.”

Predictions

Sara: Fourth. If Wales want to break into the top half of the table and establish themselves as heavyweights in the Six Nations, their destiny will be determined by their first two games at home to Italy and away to Ireland.

Philippa: Fourth. Thriving under the new coaching set-up, we saw a creative and lively Wales squad build through the autumn. They’re not the biggest team, so are focusing on their strengths to be the fittest and most agile, which could lead to some exciting, free-flowing rugby.

France

Finished third last year

France suffered a shock defeat by Italy in the final round of the 2019 Women’s Six Nations

Since beating England to the title in the 2018 Six Nations, France have been unpredictable to say the least.

Les Bleues lost to Italy in last season’s competition, beat defending world champions New Zealand and hosts the United States during the summer’s Super Series, then lost to England and Canada and were twice defeated by the Red Roses in November.

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England will have to be ready for anything when they take them on in Pau on 2 February.

Predictions

Sara: Second. Based on their erratic form last year, it’s hard to tip France for top spot, however being at home to England is their opportunity to shine.

Philippa: Second. France share some key players between their 15s and sevens squad. If they front their strongest players they will be hard to beat, but without team consistency they could be a big scalp for one of the other nations to take.

Italy

Finished second last year

England beat Italy 60-3 in November

Italy defied all expectations, beating France, Ireland and Scotland to earn their best ever finish in last season’s Championship.

Only one of those was an away victory, though, and the Azzurre suffered a heavy defeat away to England in the autumn after managing a draw when they hosted Japan.

Predictions

Sara: Fifth. The fixture list has not been kind to the Italians and with one of their two home games against a powerful England set-up, they will need to find form on the road to repeat last year’s second-place finish.

Philippa: Sixth. I think Italy will have a big target on their backs which they are not used to. The opening game against Wales could set the tone for their campaign. If they lose that I think every nation will fancy their chances of taking points from them.

Women’s Six Nations fixtures
Sunday 2 February
Ireland v Scotland: 13:00 GMT at Energia Park, Donnybrook, Dublin
Wales v Italy: 13:00 GMT at Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff
France v England: 12:30 GMT at Stade du Hameau, Pau
Saturday 8 February
France v Italy: 20:00 GMT at Stade Beaublanc, Limoges
Sunday 9 February
Scotland v England: 12:10 GMT at Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow
Ireland v Wales: 13:00 GMT at Energia Park, Donnybrook, Dublin
Sunday 23 February
Wales v France: 12:00 GMT at Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff
England v Ireland: 12:45 GMT at Castle Park, Doncaster
Italy v Scotland: 17:10 GMT at Stadio Giovanni Mari, Legnano
Saturday 7 March
England v Wales: 12:05 GMT at Twickenham Stoop, Twickenham
Scotland v France: 19:45 GMT at Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow
Sunday 8 March
Ireland v Italy: 13:00 GMT at Energia Park, Donnybrook, Dublin
Sunday 15 March
Wales v Scotland: 13:10 GMT at Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff
Italy v England: 13:30 GMT at Stadio Plebiscito, Padova
France v Ireland: 15:35 GMT at Le Stadium (Nord Lille Metropole), Lille

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