France lead race for Six Nations title

(IRB.COM) Monday 24 February 2014
 France lead race for Six Nations title
England and Ireland are only two points behind leaders France in the Women's Six Nations

Women’s Rugby World Cup hosts France remain on target for the Grand Slam in the Women’s Six Nations but England, Ireland and Italy are only two points adrift in the standings after three rounds.

France proved too strong for winless Wales, winning 27-0 at the Talbot Athletic Ground on Sunday, although two late tries from centre Shannon Izar and wing Marion Lievre made the scoreboard look better for the visitors.

The sides were separated by just three points at the break with France leading 3-0 after Sandrine Agricole’s penalty, but Wales would have fancied their chances in the second half with the elements in their favour.

However basic errors and poor handling gave France the opportunities they needed with the first try coming within five minutes of the restart from Assa Koita after Wales failed to deal with a missed penalty attempt.

Agricole converted and then scored France’s second try just after the hour mark. France’s big pack then started to turn the screw on their opponents, and while the Welsh rear guard soaked up the pressure, the two late tries were disappointing for coach Rhys Edwards.

“We thought that if we were in the game at half-time we could kick on and win it. We thought that with the wind behind them in the first half the score would have been bigger than 3-0 so we were really positive coming out for the second half,” Edwards said.

“We knew the opening five minutes would be key. Even at 10-0 down we were the dominant team – the message was quite simple, get out of our half and keep pressure on them but they got an opportunity and scored another try.

Ireland to do it the hard way

“The last five minutes isn't acceptable at this level. A good team punishes you. We pride ourselves on our defence, at times we are probably better without the ball, but the last six or seven minutes isn't acceptable.”

Defending champions Ireland saw their hopes of back-to-back Grand Slams disappear after a 17-10 loss to England at Twickenham on Saturday, although they head the pack chasing France by virtue of their better point differential.

Ireland fell behind to a try from number 8 Sarah Hunter as England signalled their intentions to avenge a 25-0 loss to their visitors in Ashbourne in 2013. However, a Niamh Briggs penalty and then a try for scrum half Larissa Muldoon edged the Irish into a 10-7 lead.

However, England went back in front before half-time as player of the match Emily Scarratt sent winger Kay Wilson over in the left corner, a score coach Philip Doyle described as a “killer blow” to his side. 

The loss of the impressive Briggs, a constant threat from full back, and centre Jenny Murphy was another blow for Ireland, while losing Lynne Cantwell and Heather O’Brien to the sin-bin in the second half didn’t help their cause.

In reality defence dominated the second half and England made certain of victory with replacement flanker Marlie Packer’s try on the hour mark, leaving Doyle’s side to “do it the hard way” if they are to defend their first Six Nations title.

“I still think we can win the Championship. We just have to do it the hard way now,” conceded Doyle. 

Italy too strong

Cantwell added: “We won the Grand Slam last year and that’s money in the bank, an incredible achievement. But I don’t think you’d be a competitive person if you didn’t expect to build on that.

“You don’t just stop there, there’s more in us. We still have more in the tank and that’s what we need to keep on striving towards. The Six Nations is still within our reach and that’s what we’re going for.”

Italy meanwhile bounced back from their defeat to France a fortnight earlier with an emphatic 45-5 victory over Scotland at the Stadio Parco Urbano in Milan on Sunday, the home too dominant for their misfiring visitors.

Flanker Ilaria Arrighetti scored Italy’s first try in only the third minute and Italy were quickly out of sight with tries following for Michela Sillari and Manuela Furlan, together with the boot of Schiavon making it 24-0 after only 21 minutes.

Replacement Beatrice Rigoni added another before half-time and there was no let-up in the second half with back row Sara Barrattin and Rigoni touching down. Scotland did have the final say with a try from Annabel Sergeant, but it was nothing more than a consolation.

That try provided Scotland’s first points of the competition as they seek a first Six Nations win since 2010. In the next round they will face the unbeaten France at Howthornden on 9 March, a day after Italy play Ireland at the Aviva Stadium with England and Wales kicking off the action on the Friday.

Scotland coach Jules Maxton said: “We made basic errors out there and that cost us dear. We need to perform more effectively and we need to maintain focus for 80 minutes. This team can do better but they didn’t help themselves.”