This Round 5 Women’s 6 Nations Preview is brought to you by new RWU Contributors Audrey Youn and Akweley Okine.
PHILADELPHIA, PA – Heading into the fifth and final round of the Women’s Six Nations, the tournament is still up in the air. With a win against France, England would ruin the French chances of claiming the tournament. Ireland are heavy favorites against the winless Scots, so they seem all-but assure to finish the tournament with 8 points. However, France won the head-to-head with Ireland, so a win against England will see them finish as champions.
Here is the current table:
Italy v Wales
In the first game of Round 5, Italy will be full of confidence after defeating France last weekend as the team faces Wales with a home advantage at Stadio Plebiscito. With both of the Italian wins occurring in the second half of the tournament, it seems that the Italy women are picking up steam and improving their play. The outcome of the game has no chance to affect the winner of the tournament; however, the match is still slated to be an exciting one as both sides are looking to finish with a winning record.
Though a replacement in the first round, winger Maria Magatti fought her way into the starting side after scoring the team’s only try against Ireland. Magatti continued to excel, contributing two tries in each of the last two games including the game-winning try against the then undefeated French side. Fly-half Veronica Schiavon is also a player to watch, having contributed 8 points in conversions and one try throughout the championship.
If Italy wants to pull out a win against the Welsh side, they must continue their strong defensive form.
The Welsh side, meanwhile, has several changes to the team that was shut out 0-20 by Ireland last weekend. Most of these changes are in the pack, which has been struggling to keep up in both scrums and mauls. Changes in the backs are mostly positional, as the Wales team looks to reshuffle in order to stop the bleeding.
Wales started strong with two consecutive wins. Pressure was the name of the game, as the Welsh team continually intimidated opposing teams into making mistakes and a relentless performance on defense. Winger Laurie Harries, who is playing at full-back this weekend, has been dominating, particularly in the second round against Scotland where she contributed 11 points in penalties and conversions, and is likely to be Wales’ most formidable player. Winger Elen Evans has also performed impressively, making significant runs almost every round.
If Wales hopes to win against Italy, however, they are going to have to focus on getting rid of silly errors that result in harmful penalties. The change in the starting side shows the Welsh commitment to better play. If the Welsh team can play the whole game the way they have played the last ten minutes of the past two rounds, they will have a greater chance of securing a win over the Italian team. Player by player, Wales is stronger. If they execute, they will win and finish the tournament with 3 wins.
England v France
For the second game, England prepares to play France with a home advantage at Twickenham Stadium this Saturday. This Saturday, English prop Rochelle Clark will earn her 100th cap for England. The Women are playing as the second half of a double header at Twickenham. Hopefully, the crowd will stay on to carry the women home.
France’s loss to Italy last week proves that the dominating team is not unbeatable. England dominated against Italy in the second round of the tournament through the use of several successful pick-and-goes and flanker Hannah Gallagher’s expert exploitation of holes. English winger Ruth Laybourn’s hat-trick try performance in the last game against Scotland was impressive
Still, in all three rounds fly-half Katy McLean has started in, she has missed four penalty kicks and eight conversions. Though some have been in tricky positions, every point is going to count against France in order for England to secure their victory. Lock Tamara Taylor commented that despite a win in Round 4 against Scotland, the team’s “discipline was not good enough,” and contends that the team “let Scotland back into the game by conceding cheap penalties.”
However, the presence of key players like Laybourn and the tenacity of the team while on offense means France will be in for a tough match. McLean’s control of the back line is formidable, and coupled with Gallagher and lock Abbie Scott, the team may come out on top if they clean up their playing style. With head coach Nicola Ponsford’s attention focused on this aspect, the English team is hopeful they will be able to pull out a win over France.
France’s domination in the tournament thus far has been a result of control of field–utilizing both forwards and backs on offense and on defense. Winger Julie Billes contributed exponentially to the first round with a hat-trick try combination and intelligent exploitations of holes and overloads. Billes, other winger Caroline Boujard, and Full-back Jessy Tremoulière have been vital players to the success of France in this tournament, continually utilizing the mistakes of opposing teams and setting a fast-pace.
Tremoulière’s kicking performance in the third round against Wales was impressive, but in the other rounds Tremoulière seemed to be lacking. This is partly responsible for the first French defeat in the tournament against Italy. In that game, where Italy won by only a try, Tremoulière missed two penalty kicks and a conversion. Both the English team and the French team have incredible players, so an improvement in Tremoulière’s boot performance could give France the extra points it needs to secure a win, and perhaps a championship title, over England.
Having lost last week to Italy, it is likely the French women will come in with the determination to claim the Women’s Six Nations Championship title for the second year in a row.
Scotland v Ireland (Broadwood Stadium)
Before kick-off on Sunday, Ireland will know if they still have a chance to win the tournament.
Ireland’s sole loss to France puts the two teams tied for the lead, though the favor lies with the Irish as they go against the last-place team. With Ireland’s Briggs’ new skipper status, the win could leave her starting off on a good foot, which is something she has and Scotland needs to look out for. While Scotland’s not an intimidating adversary, they’ve made their advances in the last round with their first try in England in seven years.
Still, this is a big ask for the Scotland women. Centre Nuala Deans will have to continue grasping for penalty points as she did in Round Two, Three, and Four. These small feats are rarely enough to break the momentum of their opposition, and in order for them to get on the scoreboard, they’ll have to make clean and secure moves right from them start in order to prevent their opposition from drowning them when they accelerate throughout the match. The Scotland Women have not won a Six Nations game since beating France in the opening round in 2010. Captain Tracy Balmer, prop, commented, “Off the back of the World Cup, England and Ireland have had quite a few retirements and new people coming in. I think that puts us in a good place and if there was a time to prove ourselves, this is the Six Nations to do it.” Her words will be tested as the team goes up against the Irish, whose Captain Briggs’ commented on her team’s adjustments: “”We’ve had a lot of change – a whole new management structure and 12 uncapped players. It’s all about working to the best of our strengths and starting to gel as quickly as we can as a squad.” Briggs is this year’s tournament’s third top points scorer so far, behind the French Billes and Tremoulière.
No matter whether or not this game determines the champion, Ireland will be too much for the struggling Scots.