The 2019 Women’s Six Nations gets underway under the Friday night lights with two mouth-watering match-ups.
England, runners-up last year to France’s Grand Slam winners, kick off their campaign with a tough trip to Donnybrook to renew hostilities with Ireland.
Then it is the turn of Scotland and Italy who will lock horns at Scotstoun Stadium as Shade Munro’s Scotland side look for revenge after two defeats to the same opponents in 2018.
And then on Saturday night all eyes will turn to the GGL Stadium where defending champions France, conquerors of New Zealand this past autumn, take on Wales.
Ireland Women v England Women
Kick off: 17:00, Friday February 1
Energia Park, Donnybrook
Tickets are available here
England hosted Ireland in the autumn at Twickenham and ran out 37-15 victors.
The Red Roses have since handed out 28 professional contracts and will be itching to prove their worth at Energia Park.
There is plenty of experience on show with captain and Test centurion Sarah Hunter leading five World Cup winners in the matchday 23, including returning Sevens star Emily Scarratt who lines up in midfield.
There is also youth on show, Rosie Galligan and Bryony Cleall could both make their debuts from the replacements bench.
Ireland show six changes to the side that lost to England in November including a first Women’s Six Nations outings for Juliet Short, Nicole Fowley and Lauren Delany. Ciara Griffin will captain the side from the back row.
Ireland head coach Adam Griggs said: “There’s no bigger challenge than to open the Six Nations against England.
“They are second in the world for a reason and are a very good side who challenge you in every part of the game.
England head coach Simon Middleton added: “We know that conditions are likely to be testing in Dublin on Friday but we are looking forward to returning to Donnybrook, a ground we know well, having lifted the Six Nations Grand Slam there in 2017. Whatever the conditions, we will be focused on the task in hand.”
Scotland Women v Italy Women
Kick off: 19:35, Friday February 1
Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow
Tickets are available to purchase here
Scotland will have to make do without their talismanic forward Jade Konkel who will miss the early stages of the 2019 Championship with a leg injury.
Hannah Smith’s absence is also a blow for Munro’s side, who will take solace from running in four tries albeit in a narrow warm-up defeat to Spain last week.
Centre Lisa Thomson will captain the side for the first time as they look to build on last year’s sole Championship victory over Ireland.
The Azzurre did the double over them in 2018 and Munro knows his side must be ready.
“We get pretty used to not playing with our top players, [centre] Hannah Smith being another one, Jade being another one. So it is an opportunity for others, and it’s been really quite encouraging how the others have stepped up,” he said.
“Siobhan Cattigan, for example, who was a 12/10 for Stirling County and who we wanted to convert to the back row, has really taken her opportunity. She could play, Sarah Bonar can play No.8; these people have had that experience given previous injuries to Jade, or when Jade has been playing in the front row. So I’m pretty encouraged.”
Manuela Furlan is Italy’s new skipper, replacing Sara Barattin, and aiming to use all of her 70 caps worth of experience to lead them to new heights after a best-ever finish of third in the 2015 Championship.
France Women v Wales Women
Kick off: 20:00, Saturday February 2
GGL Stadium, Montpellier
To get your hands on tickets, click here
A trip to France – the home of the Grand Slam champions – is a tough start for Rowland Phillips’ Wales side.
But after an impressive autumn that saw them beat South Africa and Hong Kong and push Canada all the way, Wales come into the Championship feeling positive.
They also welcome back talismanic fly-half Elinor Snowsill to a squad that includes six uncapped players and Phillips is full of confidence ahead of the trip to the GGL Stadium.
Phillips said: “France beat New Zealand in the autumn and that has made everyone sit up and take notice.
“We know France are strong anyway, but that result certainly lifted an eyebrow.
“The tournament will be game by game, but we need to measure ourselves by results and performances as well. That’s important for us.
“The target for us is to move up the table. There are teams in the competition we have beaten before and beaten recently, so we need to be confident of moving up the table.”
Meanwhile France skipper Gaëlle Hermet knows her side cannot afford to be dreaming of a second Grand Slam just yet.
They remain without the injured Jessy Tremouliere – the world player of the year no less – but do welcome back some old faces such as Marine Ménager, Camille Imart and Lauriane Lissar.
Hermet said: “Our match against Wales is our first and therefore most important. They will come with great commitment and determination.
“Wales will want to beat us in Montpellier and it will be a very complicated match but one we will be ready for.”