England are just one win away from a sixth RBS Women’s Six Nations Grand Slam in seven years after beating their biggest rivals France 15-3 in the penultimate round tussle at the Stade Charlety in Paris on Sunday.
Ireland will be hoping to deny England the clean sweep – just as Wales did in 2009 – in the final round this weekend, but barring a point differential swing of 48 points in favour of a victorious Irish side the Red Roses will still be celebrating a seventh successive title.
The Irish women, who would have been going for the Grand Slam themselves had it not been for a heartbreaking 8-7 loss to France in round two, will hope celebrate St Patrick’s Day in style and beat England to secure a first ever Triple Crown.
England, though, will be tough to beat after scoring two second half tries in a tough encounter with France, Emily Scarratt and Kay Wilson touching down to turn a slender 3-0 advantage into a more comfortable 15-0 lead.
France did create scoring opportunities of their own before the 4,500 crowd but were unable to cross the England try-line, their only points coming from the boot of Aurielle Bailon at the hour mark as their title hopes ended.
Keeping feet on the ground
“This was a fantastic performance,” said England coach Gary Street. “The players dug deep in an intimidating atmosphere against a seriously physical French team. We defended magnificently and controlled the ball for long periods of time and scored two outstanding tries that would be worthy of being scored in any world-class international rugby match.
“Next up is Ireland and we have got to keep our feet on the ground. We are not thinking about the title or the Grand Slam, next week will be all about getting the job done. We have got to defeat Ireland and that is our only goal. The squad are in a good place and we are ready for the final match in this campaign.”
England and France have already qualified for Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 by virtue of their top six finish in the 2010 tournament, but Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy are all hoping to secure two places available to the next placed teams across the 2012 and 2013 Six Nations.
Ireland are currently heading that race with three victories, one more than Wales who they comprehensively beat by a record 36-0 margin in their rearranged fixture in Ashbourne on 3 March, while Italy and Scotland are yet to taste victory in 2012.
Scotland also failed to score a point against a confident Irish team last weekend in Ashbourne, Ireland taking their tally to 19 tries in the Championship this year with Alison Miller, Sophie Spence and Ashleigh Baxter all touching down.
Historic day for Wales
Wales had the perfect antidote to bounce back after their mauling by Ireland, playing for the first time on the Millennium Stadium pitch after the men’s team had kept their Grand Slam hopes alive with victory over Italy.
Elen Evans, making her first start of the Championship after injury, and Clare Flowers crossed the try-line in the first half as Wales established an 18-6 lead at the break, an advantage which quickly grew when Naomi Thomas touched down.
Thomas added a fourth try before Italy were able finally get on the scoreboard when flanker Michaela Esta burrowed over, but that was their only foray over the Welsh try-line as the home side held on for a confidence-boosting 30-13 win.
“The girls were determined to bounce back after last week’s disappointing showing,” admitted captain Rhian Bowden. “We showed today what we can do. The backs scored three of the four tries and looked dangerous on a number of occasions.
“We had to soak up a lot of pressure early on but we expected them to come at us. Hopefully we can now use this as a springboard for next week’s game against France at Pandy Park.”