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France v England – A Match with Sharp Edges

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A preview of Saturday’s match in Grenoble, plus News from around the World

The England team:

15. Ellie Kildunne (Wasps, 9 caps)
14. Jess Breach (Harlequins, 14 caps)
13. Emily Scarratt (captain; Loughborough Lightning, 90 caps)
12. Zoe Harrison (Saracens, 25 caps)
11. Abby Dow (Wasps, 13 caps)
10. Helena Rowland (Loughborough Lightning, 1 cap)
9. Leanne Riley (Harlequins, 38 caps)
1. Vickii Cornborough (Harlequins, 54 caps)
2. Amy Cokayne (Harlequins, 51 caps)
3. Shaunagh Brown (Harlequins, 18 caps)
4. Abbie Ward (Harlequins, 43 caps)
5. Poppy Cleall (Saracens, 41 caps)
6. Alex Matthews (Worcester Warriors, 38 caps)
7. Marlie Packer (Saracens, 72 caps)
8. Sarah Beckett (Harlequins, 18 caps)

Bench

16. Lark Davies (Loughborough Lightning, 26 caps)
17. Detysha Harper (Loughborough Lightning, 2 caps)
18. Laura Keates (Worcester Warriors, 60 caps)
19. Morwenna Talling (Loughborough Lightning, 1 cap)
20. Harriet Millar-Mills (Wasps, 56 caps)
21. Claudia MacDonald (Wasps, 10 caps)
22. Kelly Smith (Gloucester-Hartpury, 13 caps)
23. Megan Jones (Wasps, 9 caps)

A Quart into a Pint Pot

It is quite impossible to give everyone a go who deserves it. But Simon Middleton has two games to test out the comparative strengths of his 30-strong squad.

One crucial option is Helena Rowland at No 10. She is selected ahead of the alternatives, Zoe Harrison (back at inside-centre) and Meg Jones who has performed outstandingly for Wasps since her return from Sevens.

England’s recurrent shortage at lock is once more eased by Poppy Cleall, which allows Alex Matthews to make a welcome start at blind-side. Morwenna Talling is spared an early exposure to the French.

The main challenge comes up front. England finished second in the set-scrum stakes in Pau. They must front up this time to ensure they give full scope to the attacking talents out behind. Even against Italy at the start of the month the backs saw less of the ball than they would have wished.

France show their hand

15 Izar
14 Bertrand
13 Neisen
12 Filopon
11 Ménager M.
10 Drouin
9 Sansus
1 Deshayes
2 Sochat
3 Bernadou
4 Ferer
5 Diallo
6 Mayans
7 Hermet (captain)
8 Gros

16 Touyé
17 Aït Lahbib
18 Pelle
19 Feleu
20 Lecat
21 Bourdon
22 Vernier
23 Pignot

France’s Challenge

Annick Hayraud said they needed to forget the performance against Scotland (a draw 13-13),. That’s one way to off-set a disappointment.

She has strengthened the side by reintroducing quality players, especially aft, where Shannon Izar will look after the rear areas and Caroline Drouin will hope to exploit the skills of Carla Neisen and Maëlle Filopon in the centre.

Pauline Bourdon has to wait her turn; Safi N’Diaye and Jessy Trémoulière are absent from roll-call. Chloe Pelle makes a fascinating switch from the backs to the front row. Now who’s made that change already?

For the French team this game has enormous importance. They have suffered positive coronavirus results; their season has been cut short at international and club level. Now they have the chance to put things right against their fiercest European rivals.

They have lost to them five times on the trot. And England have a double advantage: they completed a full international this month and have been playing regularly in the national league, a chance denied to les Bleues since the FFR called off all rugby below international level.

The Stade des Alpes in Grenoble is a favourite haunt of theirs since the memorable capture of the Six Nations Championship and their first win against the Black Ferns in 2018. The weather is set fair, much closer to the 27⁰ of Pau than the snows of Edinburgh.

The two games take on extra excitement with the addition of so many quality Sevens players to both sides. We get used to the game being played at 100 mph in World Series tournaments, but the new-look Prem 15s has gained extra fizz with the pace offered by players like Helena Rowland, Meg Jones, Alex Matthews and Ellie Kildunne.

Against them we’ll be seeing French stars who have proved more successful than the Red Roses on the HSBC circuit.

Media Coverage

Putting the game live on BBC2 is a dramatic step forward. Sports administrators have turned gratefully to Sky because they offer untold riches for television rights. But they come at a cost. It is a public service broadcaster (the BBC) that will bring the game to the largest audience, especially the young. They will offer peanuts compared to Sky’s millions, but a glance at cricket’s fate in the UK shows how a game can fade into the background when removed from free-to-air.

It would be fascinating to know the comparable viewing figures for the Red Roses’ internationals this year, the two BBC broadcasts set against the many Sky offerings.

News from around the World

Another woman is appointed as a national head coach: Anna Yakovleva will lead the Kazakhstan team in its pursuit of another entry to the World Cup. She herself appeared at successive RWCs from 2002 to 2014.

Cindy Nelles, the Maple Leaf, has been playing for title-winning Canterbury in the Farah Palmer Cup. Now she is selected to represent the New Zealand Barbarians to play against the Black Ferns, as part of the restructured build-up to the 2021 RWC.

USA Rugby have had to reschedule too. They have organised a Rugby Women’s Week (16-22 November) based in Glendale Colorado. Two representative sides will match up, the Stars versus the Stripes.

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