Interviewer: And what precisely have you achieved over the last seven or eight years, Red Roses?
‘Oh, let’s think. A World Cup, a World Cup Final, a fourth place at the Olympics, three World Players of the Year, a Grand Slam with maximum points. Why do you ask?’
Do you realise the last time you managed to beat the French away from home was two years before that World Cup win?
That’s the size of the challenge that awaits the Red Roses as they swim across the Channel to meet the foe. Rarely has an autumn international had such meaning behind it. The two squads combined are now professional times one-and-a-half. The French are on 50% pro-contracts. Is that enough to give the visitors a gilt-edged advantage?
When we take a look at the names the French have just announced, we’ll need a lot of optimism to say yes.
Julie ANNERY (Stade Français Paris)
Camille BOUDAUD (Stade Toulousain Rugby)
Caroline BOUJARD (Montpellier RC)
Pauline BOURDON (AS Bayonnaise)
Lénaïg CORSON (Stade Français Paris)
Annaëlle DESHAYES (AS Rouen Université Club)
Caroline DROUIN (Stade Rennais Rugby)
Céline FERER (Stade Toulousain Rugby)
Gaëlle HERMET (Stade Toulousain Rugby)
Ian JASON (Stade Toulousain Rugby)
Clara JOYEUX (Blagnac Rugby Féminin)
Marjorie MAYANS (Blagnac Rugby Féminin)
Marine MENAGER (Montpellier RC)
Romane MENAGER (Montpellier RC)
Safi N’DIAYE (Montpellier RC)
Chloé PELLE (Stade Français Paris)
Morgane PEYRONNET (Montpellier RC)
Amélie ROUX (ASM Romagnat Rugby Féminin)
Laure SANSUS (Stade Toulousain Rugby)
Agathe SOCHAT (Montpellier RC)
Caroline THOMAS (ASM Romagnat Rugby Féminin)
Dhia Maïlys TRAORE (Stade Toulousain Rugby)
Jessy TREMOULIERE (ASM Romagnat Rugby Féminin)
Gabrielle VERNIER (Blagnac Rugby Féminin)
Annick Hayraud has listed 24 players, just like England. Only one unfamiliar name is included, Amélie Roux. She has a most interesting pedigree: she represented Galwegians then Connaught in the Irish inter-provincials, before coming back to France where she had to wait to obtain her licence. She replaces Audrey Forlani in the second row.
The remaining names are worryingly familiar. Best for the England forwards not to cast a glance at the French pack driving the Black Ferns back repeatedly at the set-scrum in Chula Vista – and that without the presence of Corson, N’Diaye and Ménager.
England’s men were found out in the tight against South Africa last weekend. We don’t want a repeat of those frailties in Clermont.
There are some wonderful match-ups in prospect, Corson and N’Diaye against Scott and Aldcroft; Mayans against Scarratt; Ménager against Hunter.
This should be the first of two outstanding battles. The safe bet would be two home wins. But England can’t possibly be satisfied with that. They know they must break that hoodoo of away wins in France. After all, the last defeat was by a single point in the dying moments of the unforgettable game in Grenoble.