This weekend sees the four top-ranked sides in the world meeting in combat:
Saturday: France v New Zealand, Pau
Sunday: England v Canada, Twickenham Stoop
As proof of how international rugby is thriving post-lockdown here are the other tests taking place:
Ireland v USA
Namibia v Zambia
Scotland v Japan
Switzerland v Czechia
Wales v South Africa
France v New Zealand
The really crucial match takes place in southern France. The Black Ferns have to get their tour back on track after two heavy defeats. France are above all ambitious; their eyes are fixed firmly on the World Cup where they want to set the record straight.
I mentioned the regretted absence of Rose Bernardou from their front row (http://4theloveofsport.co.uk/2021/11/09/half-time-talk-a-glance-across-six-nations/), but the Ferns’ performance at the set-scrum was less than convincing against England. For once, the Red Rose pack was not put under heavy pressure.
If les Bleues can ensure the same degree of set-piece possession then they have the creativity out behind to cause mischief in the visitors’ defensive patterns
As with the Northampton game, the question is how far the Black Ferns can advance in a week. The answer there was not nearly far enough; they shipped even more points than at Exeter. Management and team leaders have a job on hand to keep confidence levels high.
For players not used to regular high-level competition it may prove no easier to raise their game a third time. They have match winners, but in crucial areas like the line-out they can’t be sure of accident-proof possession.
The game is there for France to win.
England v Canada
The Maple Leafs won their two games against the USA, but understandably looked well short of their usual high standards. They will have their work cut out to hold the Red Roses, though they are the toughest customers and have made the hosts work very hard in recent encounters.
Their pack should prove stronger than New Zealand’s, but they are still deprived of Cindy Nelles.
The tempo of the Stoop game will be considerably higher than the two at Glendale. It should prove too much for the visitors in the last quarter.
Ireland v USA
Both teams have been announced;
15. Lauren Delany (Sale Sharks, 16 caps); 14. Laura Sheehan (Exeter Chiefs, 4); 13. Eimear Considine (UL Bohemians, 21); 12. Sene Naoupu (Old Belvedere, 44); 11. Beibhinn Parsons (Blackrock College, 14); 10. Stacey Flood (Railway Union, 6); 9. Ailsa Hughes (Railway Union, 12); 1. Lindsay Peat (Railway Union, 37); 2. Cliodhna Moloney (Wasps, 29); 3. Leah Lyons (Sale Sharks, 27); 4. Nichola Fryday (Blackrock College, 21); 5. Sam Monaghan (Wasps, 3); 6. Ciara Griffin (captain, UL Bohemians, 39);7. Edel McMahon (Wasps, 12); 8. Anna Caplice (Gloucester-Hartpury, 14).
16. Neve Jones (Malone, 4);17. Katie O’Dwyer (Railway Union, 3); 18. Linda Djougang (ASM Romagnat, 15); 19. Hannah O’Connor (Blackrock College, 5) 20. Maeve Óg O’Leary (Blackrock College, uncapped); 21. Kathryn Dane (Old Belvedere, 16); 22. Eve Higgins (Railway Union, 5); 23. Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe (Railway Union, 5)
1. Catie Benson (Sale); 2. Saher Hamdan (Life University); 3. Hope Rogers (Life West Gladiatrix);
4. Kristine Sommer (Gloucester-Hartpury); 5. Alycia Washington (Worcester Warriors); 6. Rachel Ehrecke (Colorado Gray Wolves); 7. Rachel Johnson (Exeter); 8. Kate Zackary (captain, Exeter); 9. Carly Waters (Saracens); 10. Megan Foster (San Diego Surfers); 11. Bulou Mataitoga (Berkeley All Blues); 12. Katana Howard (Sale);13. Amy Talei Bonte (Gloucester-Hartpury);14. Tess Feury (New York); 15. Kayla Canett (USA Sevens)
16. Kathryn Treder (Beantown); 17. Maya Learned (Gloucester-Hartpury); 8. Nick James (Sale); 19. Hallie Taufoou (Colorado Gray Wolves); 20. Elizabeth Cairns (Life West Gladiatrix); 21. Olivia Ortiz (Davenport & Chicago North Shore);22. McKenzie Hawkins (Colorado Gray Wolves); 23. Sarah Levy (USA Sevens)
They are weakened by the return of Ilona Maher and Alev Kelter to the US 7s squad to prepare for the HSBC World Series, and by the injuries to Gabby Cantorna and Joanna Kitlinski.
They face an Irish side that will be extra motivated by the Anthony Eddy interview (http://4theloveofsport.co.uk/2021/11/09/an-irish-interview/ ) and its after-effects.