|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.
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Won the Grand Slam last year
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.”
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.
Finished fifth last year
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.”
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.
Finished sixth last year
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.”
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.
Finished fourth last year
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.”
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.
Finished third last year
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.
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.
Finished second last year
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.
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.
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|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|