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Middleton ready for tough opener against France

Middleton ready for tough opener against France

England women's head coach Simon Middleton ©INPHO

  • England face France in their 2020 Women's Six Nations campaign at the Stade de Hameau
  • England have beaten France in the last four meetings between the two sides

England head coach Simon Middleton is adamant his Red Roses side will not be underestimating the threat of France in their Women’s Six Nations opener on Sunday despite having won the last four meetings between the two sides.

Reigning Grand Slam champions England are tipped as favourites going into this year’s Championship, having bolstered their position as Europe’s strongest rugby force since lifting the trophy at Twickenham last March by beating France twice in the 2019 Autumn internationals.

In November, the Red Roses beat France in Clermont 20-10 before a last-minute try from Lydia Thompson ensured they triumphed twice in as many weeks at Exeter’s Sandy Park – a series of results sure to leave Les Bleues gunning for revenge.

They may have the upper hand on paper but reflecting on recent results Middleton knows his side by no means dominated France in November and will need to be at their very best – not only in Pau on Sunday – if they want to have a chance of retaining their title.

“You can’t lose the importance of it,” he said. “It’s a huge game in the context of world rugby, the women’s game and the competition.

“Complacency is something that never enters our camp, our mindset. As coaches, we wouldn’t allow it, senior players from within the group wouldn’t allow it to happen anyway.

“But what we have also talked about is regardless of the outcome of the game there are still four teams for us to play.

“They will be huge international games where we have got a responsibility to perform as well as we can for ourselves, the fans who are paying to watch us and the organisation that employs us.”

England begin their Six Nations campaign away to France on Sunday, before travelling to Glasgow to face Scotland the following weekend.

The Red Roses then play Ireland at Doncaster’s Castle Park and Wales at Twickenham Stoop before going on the road again to take on Italy.

The defending champions will be without Marlie Packer for the tournament with the Saracens flanker still recovering from an ankle injury, but back row Harriet Millar-Mills comes into the 32-woman squad after 22 months out to replace her.

Richmond FC lock Rowena Burnfield is also recalled and Vickii Cornborough is back after missing the autumn internationals with a neck injury, meanwhile Amelia Harper and Morwenna Talling are the two uncapped players in the squad.

“We know we have a tough route in this year’s competition,” added the head coach. “We are missing some key players but know this presents a good opportunity for our wider squad who we have full belief in.”

There may be changes to the squad but for Middleton, one thing remains a constant – the ever patriotic French fans at the Stade du Hameau on Saturday will make it the toughest environment to play in during this year’s Championship.

Middleton knows the patriotic French home fans at the Stade du Hameau will make it one of the toughest environments to play in on the first day of this year’s Championship.

“Is there a better place to play other than on home soil? Probably not,” said Middleton.

“Is there a more challenging place to go and play? Certainly not when there are 15,000 to 17,000 people in the stadium and the French know how to put a game on.

“Until you have been in that environment it’s difficult to describe to the girls who haven’t played in there. If you want to play at the top of the game, those are the places you want to be playing in.”