A busy month of women’s fixtures in Europe kicks off on Wednesday when world champions England host Six Nations winners France at the Twickenham Stoop.
With Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 now only nine months away, the next few weeks will see six of the top seven nations in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings in action with New Zealand, Canada and USA making the trip to Europe.
England, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand will all play each other, while the USA Women’s Eagles will face a two-test series with France, hosts of the last Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2014.
England and France have already met twice this year with both matches decided by a single score, Les Bleues winning the Six Nations title decider 17-12 in Vannes in March before England avenged that loss with a 17-13 triumph at the Women’s Rugby Super Series in the USA in July.
That win ended a run of four successive victories for France and both nations will be eager to get their November campaign off to a winning start as they build towards WRWC 2017.
England and France have both selected a handful of players with Rio 2016 experience, including Danielle Waterman and Katy Mclean for the hosts and the backline quartet of Caroline Ladagnous, Camille Grassineau, Rose Thomas and Elodie Guiglion for Les Bleues.
The Red Roses squad will be the most experienced with 1,000 caps between the 23 players selected, more than a 10th of them belonging to replacement prop Rochelle Clark, who will equal Jason Leonard’s record of 114 caps for England if she comes off the bench.
High expectation levels
Both sides will also feature a player nominated for the World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year 2016 award with England captain Sarah Hunter starting at number eight and Gaëlle Mignot starting off the bench for Les Bleues.
“This is a strong squad with a wealth of experience between them,” acknowledged England coach Simon Middleton, whose side sit one place below France in the World Rugby Women's Rankings in fourth.
“France are a side we know well and will be tough. Preparation has gone well and our focus will be on executing the things we have worked on, to stick to our plan and we look forward to getting the series underway.”
His counterpart Jean-Michel Gonzalez, a veteran of 35 tests at prop and hooker for France in the 1990s, has set some high expectations for his team as they build towards WRWC 2017 in Ireland.
“Each player has been given a specially prepared training programme,” said Gonzalez. “It’s a model that is completely different to the English whom are all professionals and can prepare all together around Twickenham. We opted for another solution. We feel they will be better prepared and everyone agrees with this approach.
“There are high expectations but we feel we can live up to them. We, the coaches, are convinced that we can be world champions.
“It is easier to work with conviction and make sure that everything is in place to obtain that goal. We are sure that we can do something special. No matter what challenges lie ahead, we won’t give up.”