The two continental members of the Six Nations are suffering the same privations caused by the pandemic, but the picture in Italy looks much more flaky.
Annick Hayraud, the manager of the French team, spoke with guarded optimism about future plans.
The first-ever tour to New Zealand has regretfully been cancelled, but she hopes it can be resurrected next spring. Several of her squad have not yet visited the country, so, with the World Cup in view, she sees it as vital for them to gain experience there in advance. By contrast, fifteen of England’s current contracted players took part in the 4-way Women’s International Series in New Zealand in 2017. And one of them, Amy Cokayne, can lead them around every corner.
To replace the November tour Hayraud mentions the possibility of another home-and-away match-up with England. That confirms French policy of taking on the strongest teams available; in Europe that means the Red Roses. It is a distinct challenge, she admits, because they are a step or two ahead at present. But it’s the best way to reach the top.
The squad met at Marcoussis in early July, obeying the restrictions then in force. They were kept in small rotating groups, but were glad to be able to meet up again. Like all rugby players, they were aware of the need to avoid injury after such a long break. A carefully orchestrated programme was in force. Three ‘new’ faces were present, the returning Marjorie Mayans, Lénaïg Corson and Julie Annery, who have decided to commit themselves full-time to 15s after a spell in the shortened form.
If the double fixture with England can take place, that will stir memories of two great encounters last year.
At club level there is cause for concern. There have been closures and transfers out of the country to set alongside an absence of hard facts from the FIR. No-one knows how next season’s Championship will roll out. Quite apart from the lack of a starting-date – quite understandable – we can’t be sure how many clubs will be prepared to take part.
That leaves the shape of the elite league uncertain: it could remain as a single unit or divide into two, or even three, with a top division backed by two others split by regions.
It reminds us of the still developing nature of women’s rugby in Italy. Clubs come and go, just as they did in the early days in England. For example, Badia has closed its doors, leaving its players to move to nearby Ferrara. The sooner this fragile situation can be righted the better. It has little to do with the pandemic; it is simply a rugby nation trying to establish a solid foundation of clubs spread across the land and reach ever higher standards.
Three Azzurre are on the move: Francesca Sgorbini (the first Italian born in this millennium to gain a cap, at Exeter) and Sara Tounesi to Romagnat, and Silvia Turani to Grenoble. Both Stade Rennais and Bayonne were hoping to attract the teenager Sgorbini. She may well be the next great back-row star after Giada Franco. While Colorno may rue the loss of top players, it will at least help to narrow the gap between the dominant clubs and the others who have trailed in their wake recently.
Once more, the dilemma facing Andrea Di Giandomenico, the head coach, is made plain. More of his players will enjoy the facilities of top French clubs, but it reduces the chances he has of assembling his squad for meaningful training.
Some Good News
Meanwhile World Rugby has proposed an international window between 24 October and 5 December. In the Northern Hemisphere it would involve completion of the men’s and women’s Six Nations championships, plus a window for international matches between November 14 and December 5.
The Red Roses will be back together next week for what is these days termed ‘Stage One training’.
Lauren Delany, the Irish full-back, becomes a rare Waterloo player not to migrate to Sale. She has joined Bristol.