As England cruised to a 52-10 win over Scotland and Wales lost heavily to France in the first weekend of this year’s Women’s Six Nations, round two is about to get underway.
On Saturday, Italy host England for their first game (2pm KO), while Ireland travel to Cardiff to take on Wales (5pm KO) to kick start their campaign. Here’s what you need to know ahead of the weekend’s action:
Player discipline is going to play a key part in this Women’s Six Nations after a total of five yellow cards and one red were brandished in just two games. Simon Middleton has since brought referee Sara Cox into England’s training camp to assess players’ tackle technique.
The red was given to Scotland’s Molly Wright, who will miss the remainder of the tournament as she has been handed a three-match ban for her red card-worthy high tackle against England. Scotland played the last two minutes with 13 players as Louise McMillen received a yellow shortly after Wright’s dismissal. Lisa Thompson also spent time in the sin-bin for the Scots.
And the cards didn’t stop there. Poppy Cleall was given a yellow by Italian referee Clara Munarini for a cynical foul, and England were briefly reduced to 13 when Lark Davies was sent to the bin just six minutes later.
In the Saturday evening match, Georgia Evans of Wales left the pitch on a yellow card in the 80th minute.
Ireland to take advantage of Wales’ misfortune?
Since Ireland’s last international match – a home win over Italy in October 2020 – Adam Griggs’ side have had 20 training camps. Along with the extra week to prepare, there is no doubt Ireland will feel they have the upper hand against Wales.
The Welsh will want to bounce back after a miserable 53-0 thrashing away to France. Another defeat would mean a guaranteed bottom place finish in Pool B, and a win for Ireland would keep their chances of topping the group alive.
Perhaps Wales’ last game wasn’t the best for Ireland’s coaching staff to assess their opponent’s attacking threat but they will, at least, have been able to analyse the main weaknesses in the Welsh squad.
Hunter returns for England
England captain Sarah Hunter returns to the starting lineup for the first time in over a year after a neural injury and hamstring injury left her on the sidelines.
Hunter is set to make her 124th cap in the white jersey at No. 8, replacing Poppy Cleall, who was the player of the match in Doncaster last weekend.
Emily Scarratt, who held the captaincy against Scotland, will remain an influential leader on the pitch as England’s vice-captain.
Red Roses rotation
It was expected that Middleton would rotate his starting XV throughout the Championship. With the World Cup delayed for a year due to the pandemic, the England head coach now has the time to work out his best fit and give players an opportunity to prove themselves.
Only six of last week’s starting team are in the XV to start against Italy. Emily Scarratt remains at outside centre and Zoe Aldcroft retains her place, but will move from the back row to lock. Changing the left wing for the right, try scorer Jess Breach starts again, along with Vickii Cornborough as loosehead and Leanne Riley at scrum-half.
Helena Rowland starts again as fly-half and will partner Meg Jones, who replaces Lagi Tuima at inside centre. Zoe Harrison will have to wait for her chance to play at No.10 as she returns among the finishers, after being left out last week for breaching coronavirus protocols.
Ellie Kildunne, Abby Dow, Amy Cokayne, Shaunagh Brown, Alex Matthews and Vicky Fleetwood all make their first start of the tournament.
World Cup qualification
With Italy and Ireland entering the tournament for the first time this weekend, it is worth noting that they, along with Scotland, have qualification games for the World Cup in 2022 on the horizon.
A European tournament, which also includes Spain, has been postponed twice and there is no rescheduled date as of yet – but the winner of it will automatically seal their place at the World Cup.
The Women’s Six Nations is the time for each head coach to work out their strongest team and give players the chance to demonstrate their individual strengths.
More importantly, coaching staff will be analysing their rivals for the European tournament, and when it comes to Italy, Ireland and Scotland playing each other, we might have a good idea of who will come out on top by the end of the Championship.
Where to watch
For UK-based audiences, BBC iPlayer will show both of Saturday’s games live, while the RTE Player gives access to viewers in Ireland. Eurosport Player is available in Italy.