High-scoring, nail-biting, hair-raising – the opening three rounds of the Women’s Six Nations were lacking in little.
Now the stage is set, after a fortnight’s absence, for a mouth-watering return with Round Four beckoning.
With a top-of-the-table clash on the cards when England welcome Italy, the narrative doesn’t stop coming, so what better way to look ahead a bumper weekend of action that a comprehensive reminder of how things stand as we approach the final straight.
England v Italy
The records read played three, lost none, for both of the Championship’s top two but this weekend will likely see one of England or Italy fall to their first defeat.
England have started the Women’s Six Nations in unforgiving fashion as they look to wrestle back their crown from reigning Grand Slam champions France, beating Ireland, Wales and France themselves – all in emphatic fashion, all with the prize of a bonus point.
Italy have gone about their business in more measured fashion, skirting under the radar and keeping out of the limelight, beating Scotland and Ireland either side of a hard-fought draw against Wales.
And while it would be unwise to make predictions, trends can often be borne out of the stats, with Round Three offering an indicator of how this clash could look.
Both sides revolved their game around keeping the ball in hand during their respective Round Three wins, Italy choosing to pass 57 per cent of the time while for Italy, the number was even higher, at 59.2 per cent.
But if Italy can pin Simon Middleton’s side into their own 22, they will likely force their opponents to kick, with their likelihood to do so leaping from 5.8 per cent overall to 25 per cent.
It’s a tactic that seems an obvious one when you’ve got Katy Daley-McLean in your side, the England legend leading the way for kicks out of the hand in Round Three, resorting to the boot on 12 occasions.
Italy, however, have a kicking sensation of their own, with Michela Sillari’s eagle-eyed accuracy proving vital throughout the Championship for the Azzurre.
She kicked four from five as Italy edged past Ireland 29-27 in Parma, her 52nd-minute conversion proving vital, and England will certainly be wary of the threat she poses from the tee.
Scotland v Wales
Round Three kicks off in Glasgow as Scotland look to notch their first points of the Championship, with Wales the visitors to Scotstoun.
The hosts have battled but ultimately come up short in their opening three fixtures, impressing during their defeats to Italy, Ireland and France, but struggling to assert themselves on the scoreboard.
Wales, on the other hand, can take hope from the resolve they showed to limit Italy to a draw in Round Two in a gritty contest that ended 3-3.
With both sides coming off the back of tough defeats to England and France, the two-week break will no-doubt have allowed them to reassess and formulate game-plans ahead of this crunch clash.
It could well be a battle of attrition decided by moments of magic in Glasgow, with Scotland’s Chloe Rollie catching the eye for Scotland with the ball in-hand.
Both sides have strong players in defence, with Sarah Bonar’s 28 tackles four more than her nearest challenger for the most in Round Three, and she will likely be busy again, with Siwan Lillicrap’s powerful ball carrying a real weapon for Wales.
Ireland v France
Two sides with recent memories of lifting the Women’s Six Nations title meet at Donnybrook to close out the weekend on Saturday evening.
France’s record so far has been blemished only by their Round Two defeat to England, but emphatic wins over Wales and Scotland either side both yielded bonus points.
They will have to be ready for an Ireland side smarting, however, after they fell agonisingly to Italy last time out and looking for revenge, and Adam Griggs’ side will be desperate to put things right.
If they are to have a chance of dealing a second defeat to the reigning Grand Slam Champions, then they will need Kathryn Dane to be on-song.
The scrum-half made her Test debut against Italy but found herself in the midst of the action as she topped the pile for effective passes played in Round Three, with 114.
France, on the other hand, may well resort to Emma Coudert’s boot to unlock the door, her eight short, tactical kicks putting her well out in front overall from Round Three’s fixtures.