France have lost to England three times this year; no wonder they are taking things so seriously.
They were badly outplayed only in the Six Nations game at Doncaster last season, and even there they won the second half 26-17. But they are finding it difficult at present to get on top and stay there.
7 Hermet (captain)
8 Ménager R
23 Ménager M
We really shouldn’t be surprised any more by French selections, but there it is: a nominee for World Player of the Year reduced to the bench – Pauline Bourdon. Her replacement Laure Sansus has to be watched carefully. The two tries she scored direct from set scrums in the Super Series were remarkable. Ian Jason who replaces Marine Ménager on the left wing was rather shown up by her opposite number at Doncaster. Caroline Drouin disappears from No 10, presumably injured.
This year’s autumn programme is the first time the Red Roses have played back-to-back games against major opponents. It’s another sign of how women’s rugby is being notched up.
The England squad:
5 Scott A
8 Hunter (captain)
19 Cleall P
22 Scott E
Simon Middleton is obviously very impressed with Abby Dow’s form. Despite the expected return of Lydia Thompson to the right wing – she was the only player unemployed last week – Dow is retained on the other wing where she has not yet represented her country. Indeed it’s hard to remember when she last played there at all.
No surprise that the same pack starts, but it’s a feather in Sarah Beckett’s cap that she gets the nod again over the redoubtable Poppy Cleall.
It’s a daunting thought that over a quarter of the 28 contracted players are unavailable: Amber Reed, Amy Cokayne, Cath O’Donnell, Vickii Cornborough, Lagi Tuima, Claudia Macdonald, Bryony Cleall and Kelly Smith.
In a very real sense the Scotland-Wales clash at Scotstoun this weekend is far more important than the Exeter game. The qualification matches for the one World Cup place available will be decided next autumn. The contestants are Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Spain.
Philip Doyle, Scotland’s head coach, has made no secret of the fact that that qualification is the top priority for him and his squad. He was delighted with the two wins in South Africa but bigger challenges lie ahead. He has appointed Rachel Malcolm of Loughborough Lightning his new captain for the autumn series
Matches being played this autumn:
Spain v Wales 29-5
Ireland v Wales 13-15
Scotland v Wales 17 November
Current rankings: Spain 8th, Wales 9th, Ireland 10th, Scotland 11th