With Women's Rugby World Cup 2017 only six months away, for five of the teams participating in the Women's Six Nations the tournament is a vital part of their preparations and a chance for players to stake a claim for a place at the showpiece event.
The opening weekend of the Six Nations brought together the defending champions France and world champions England at Twickenham on Saturday, a match which was the proverbial game of two halves as the hosts overturned a 13-0 half-time deficit to win 26-13.
Shannon Izar intercepted and ran the length of the field to give France an early lead and another try from captain Gaelle Mignot, together with a Christelle le Duff penalty, gave Les Bleues the half-time advantage.
The second half was a different tale, though, as England got on the scoreboard within minutes of the restart through Emily Scarratt and then Danielle Waterman crashed over in the corner soon after, cutting France's lead to only three points after Scarratt's conversion.
Scarratt brought England level on the hour mark with a another penalty and then the former England and Great Britain sevens captain edged her side ahead with two more kicks at goal. A try from Amy Wilson-Hardy put the match beyond doubt with Scarratt finishing with 16 points for the Red Roses.
The win improves England's rating by three tenths, but they still remain just over five points adrift of number one side New Zealand in the rankings. France remain fourth, still three points clear of Ireland who were unable to improve their ranking despite beating 13th ranked Scotland at the death.
"I'm absolutely thrilled with the second-half performance, the composure the players showed to get back into the game like they did and domimate the second half," said coach Simon Middleton after seeing his side overcome the biggeset half-time deficit in Women's Six Nations history.
It is Ireland, though, that top the table after round one after they snatched victory with the final play of the match at Broadwood Stadium in Cumbernauld on Friday, centre Jenny Murphy's try not only securing the 22-15 win over Scotland but also the first try bonus point in the Women's Six Nations.
Number eight Jade Konkel, Scotland's first full-time professional women's player, scored twice in the first half – becoming the first Scotland player to claim a brace since Lucy Millard back in 2010 – to give the hosts a 15-10 lead at half-time with Sene Naoupu and Alison Miller dotting down for Ireland in between.
A yellow card for prop Lindsey Smith proved costly for Scotland with Ireland drawing level at 15-15 when their own prop Lindsay Peat crashed over in the 52nd minute. The score remained that way until Murphy found the gap to break Scottish hearts, leaving them not with a draw but a losing bonus point.
Scotland have not won a Six Nations match since 2010, but while the wait for victory goes on there are still plenty of positives for coach Shade Munro to take from the match, not least the vast improvement from the 73-3 mauling his side suffered by the Irish at the same venue in 2015.
"We gave a full 80-minute performance which is what we asked for," said Munro. "Ireland are an extremely good team so we were aware of the challenges they possessed.
"While we are very disappointed to lose the game in the last seconds, in the cold light of day there were a lot of positives and I'm very encouraged and proud of the effort they put in.
"I think confidence is certainly growing and performances are getting better. It's not come as a shock to them, it's just a natural progression. We are not quite there but we will keep working hard."
Italy count the cost of defeat
The only match of the opening round that resulted in changes to the World Rugby Women’s Rankings was Wales' 20-8 defeat of their hosts Italy in Jesi on Saturday.
The Azzurre were the higher ranked of the two in seventh compared to 10th going into the match, but the loss on home soil has seen Italy drop three places to 10th with the USA, Spain and Wales all climbing one as a result.
Italy had won the three previous meetings between the sides in the Six Nations, but a strong platform up front allowed Wales to end that sequence with prop Caryl Thomas, full-back Dyddgu Hywel and hooker and captain Carys Phillips scoring the three tries.
Elinor Snowsill opened Wales' account with a penalty before Thomas powered over near the posts to make it 10-0 to the visitors.
Italy gradually worked their way into the game and cut the deficit to two at the break after Michela Sillari's penalty and try by their impressive full-back Manuela Furlan, but in the second half Wales returned to their strength up front and were rewarded with tries for Hywel and Phillips.
"Our commitment in defence, particularly in our 22, probably won us the game," insisted Phillips. "Italy kept on coming at us so we had to empty the tank trying to keep them out. Our backs had to defend just as hard as the forwards at times, which shows how much of a threat Italy can be."
The Women's Six Nations continues on Saturday when Wales host world champions England in their new home at Cardiff Arms Park and France welcome Scotland to the Stade Marcel Deflandre in La Rochelle. A day later table-topping Ireland travel to L'Aquila to take on Italy.