Seven long months on from the last time a ball was kicked, a tackle made or a try scored in the Women’s Six Nations, the Championship returns with a bang this weekend.
Ireland’s clash against Italy gets the action restarted on Saturday afternoon, 231 days after Round 4 began with England’s win over Wales, before Scotland go head-to-head with France on Sunday.
There is plenty to play for across the six matches that remain of the 2020 Women’s Six Nations – let’s remind ourselves of the story so far…
ROUND ONE: Scarratt settles crunch clash, Ireland fly out of the traps and Italy down Wales
The opening weekend of the Championship threw up a tantalising encounter between the two sides who had won Grand Slams in each of the previous two Women’s Six Nations.
France, who swept all before them in 2018, welcomed reigning champions England to Pau for a match that, even on the opening weekend, looked set to have a big say in the destination of the trophy.
England started on top in a full-blooded encounter, with tries from Abby Dow and Vicky Fleetwood putting the visitors in the early ascendancy.
Laure Sansus’ score got France back in it and there was little to choose between the sides in the second half until Emily Scarratt scored a fine solo try which she then converted to give England daylight.
The Red Roses held on for a 19-13 triumph to start their campaign on a high and Ireland joined them at the early summit after a rapid start helped them beat Scotland in Dublin.
Cliodhna Moloney and Sene Naoupu each went over inside the first 15 minutes to help Ireland into an imposing lead and they held off a spirited Scotland fightback to win 18-14.
At Cardiff Arms Park, a fine solo score by Hannah Jones helped Wales take a 10-5 lead into the interval.
But Italy hit back after the break and two tries in the space of five minutes from wings Maria Magatti and Sofia Stefan proved decisive as the Azzurre ran out 19-15 winners.
ROUND TWO: Brilliant Banet, impressive Ireland and a one-sided Calcutta Cup
After three close contests over the opening weekend, Round 2 was a lot more clear-cut with big wins the order of the day.
France got the ball rolling with a 45-10 victory over Italy in Limoges, Cyrielle Banet crossing for two of Les Bleues’ six tries and Sansus going over for her second of the Championship late on as the hosts earned a bonus-point triumph.
Ireland made it two wins from two as they comfortably saw off Wales 31-12. First-half tries from Beibhinn Parsons, Moloney and Lauren Delany put the hosts in the driving seat and, though Wales scored twice either side of the break, Linda Djougang’s score and a late penalty try put the result beyond doubt.
Scotland’s Calcutta Cup clash against England was moved to BT Murrayfield and played a day later than planned due to the impact of Storm Ciara, which showed little let-up and meant the second half was played in heavy snow.
The visitors adapted more comfortably to the tricky conditions and eased to a 53-0 victory, with two tries apiece for Dow and Emily Scott helping England maintain their unbeaten Women’s Six Nations record against their neighbours.
ROUND THREE: France on fire and England keep Slam hopes alive
Round 3 saw the impact of the coronavirus pandemic begin to take hold, with Italy’s match against Scotland postponed.
Two matches were able to take place and both France and England recorded shut-outs in convincing wins.
Banet and Sansus again came to the fore for France, both scoring braces as Wales were beaten 50-0 in Cardiff. Jessy Tremouliere converted five of the visitors’ eight tries as they recorded their second win on the spin.
The Championship’s two unbeaten sides then went head-to-head as England welcomed Ireland to Doncaster’s Castle Park.
The hosts were in control from the outset and had the bonus point wrapped up by half-time after scores from Sarah Hunter, Dow, Jess Breach and Fleetwood inside the opening 40 minutes.
Sarah McKenna was the only player to cross in a tighter second half as England closed out a 27-0 victory to stay on course for a Grand Slam.
ROUND FOUR: Cleal treble keeps England on course
Only one game went ahead as planned in Round 4 back in March, with Scotland against France and Italy’s trip to Ireland both postponed due to the worsening impact of Covid-19 in Europe.
It was game on at Twickenham Stoop, however, and England made the most of it by scoring 10 tries in a 66-7 victory over Wales.
Poppy Cleal crossed twice in the first 12 minutes and went on to complete her hat-trick in the second half, while Scarratt slotted over eight of her 10 conversions to give England a healthy cushion at the top of the table.
WHO CAN WIN IT?
England are big favourites to secure their second consecutive Championship – and Grand Slam – and know victory over Italy in their final match will be enough to retain the title.
France are still in contention but need two wins (at least one of which must be with a bonus point), combined with a defeat for England in Parma, to overhaul the current leaders.
The final match of this year’s Championship between Italy and Scotland in December, meanwhile, is to double up as a 2021 World Cup qualifier.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
The race to become the competition’s top try scorer could go down to the wire.
Laure Sansus, Cyrielle Banet and Abigail Dow each have four tries to their name, while England pair Vicky Fleetwood and Poppy Cleall are just one behind.
Ireland captain Ciara Griffin is looking to “hit the ground running” as they look to build on their two wins earlier in the competition, while Scotland lock Emma Wassell will hope to continue her remarkable run of consecutive matches that stretches back to 2014.
Italy flanker Giada Franco, meanwhile, is raring to go ahead of the restart and believes the time away has given her side a fresh lease of life.