The 2020 Women’s Six Nations Championship gets underway with an action-packed Sunday, that features all six teams in action.
The standout match-up of the weekend comes at the Stade Du Hameau, Pau with reigning Grand Slam champions England visiting France to kick off the tournament.
Elsewhere Ireland meet Scotland in Dublin, with the other opening fixture seeing 2019 runners-up Italy make the trip to Wales for a clash at Cardiff Arms Park.
The tournament will hit the ground running with games on back-to-back weekends and every side will be desperate to make a positive start.
France Women V England Women
England have been given a tough task to start the defence of their title from last year with an away fixture to 2018 champions France.
Les Bleus will be aiming to bounce back from a disappointing Six Nations campaign last year which saw them lose twice and suffer back-to-back defeats to the English in the 2019 autumn internationals.
The past two winners of the competition will both be aware of the importance of a good start, particularly the hosts who face Italy just six days later.
Clashes between the two are always great spectacles, with the same fixture in 2018 attracting a world record crowd of 17,440.
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That time France edged it 18-17 after a late Jessy Trémoulière try gave them a crucial win.
England got revenge 12 months on, destroying the French 41-26 in Doncaster to set them on course for the Grand Slam.
Fly-half Katy Daley-Mclean surpassed 500 international points that day and will be hoping another leading performance on Sunday.
England’s build-up has been slightly disrupted by injuries, with Marlie Packer out with ankle injury and Cath O’Donnell and Lagi Tuima also side-lined.
Coach Simon Middleton believes this will show the strength in depth his side possess.
“We know we have a tough route in this year’s competition and are missing key players, but this presents a good opportunity for our wider squad.”
Wales Women V Italy Women
Italy recorded their highest Six Nations finish in history last season, after a final day 31-12 win over France secured 2nd place.
They will hope to go one better this year but will need a positive start against Wales in Cardiff on Sunday.
This year’s Championship fixture list gives the Azzurre a real chance with a potentially defining clash with England in the final round taking place on Italian soil.
Wales, meanwhile, will be hoping to build on a successful autumn.
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The Welsh had an inconsistent 2019 campaign finishing in 4th position, admittedly an improvement after receiving the wooden spoon the previous season.
They will come in with a degree of confidence after wins over both Ireland and Scotland in November, and coach Chris Horsman believes progress has been made.
“Both in terms of creating fitness benchmarks and raising our performance standards we made clear improvements in November.”
The two sides shared the points after a try-less 3-3 draw in Lecce last season, when an added-time Italian penalty drifted wide of the posts.
Ireland Women V Scotland Women
The reverse fixture last season, ending 5-22 to Ireland, brought the only Irish win of the 2019 edition and contributed towards a whitewash campaign for Scotland.
Both sides will be desperate to make this year’s tournament a more memorable one, and keen for a positive start at Energia Park in Dublin.
The Scots have a daunting task against England lurking in the following round of fixtures meaning coach Philip Doyle will need a positive start on Sunday.
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Repeating their title winning performance from 2015, or their second-place finish from 2017, will be a difficult ask but coach Adam Griggs is banking on the team’s experience;
“We have a core group of players that have been involved now for a number of years. It’s important that they use their experience to drive our standards of play and make sure we produce quality performances from the start.”
Opening up with home games against Scotland and then Wales the following week give them a real chance of getting off to a good start.