The opening weekend of the Women’s Six Nations went according to the form book, with the six-place rankings differential between England and Italy and France and Ireland reflected by the one-sided scorelines.
Italy, the eighth best team in the rankings, gave as good as they got against second-ranked England in an even first half in Reggio Emilia, but the Red Roses pulled away to win comfortably 42-7.
Meanwhile, France eased to a 24-0 victory against the Irish at the Stade Ernest Wallon in Toulouse to ensure they stay in third place and Ireland in ninth.
However, ever-improving Scotland, ranked 12th, almost defied the five-place gap between themselves and hosts Wales only to fall to the narrowest of defeats in the opening game of the 2018 Championship in Colwyn Bay on Friday.
In a game every bit as thrilling as Scotland’s dramatic 15-14 win in Cumbernauld 12 months earlier, Wales turned the tables on their opponents to win 18-17 thanks to tries from Jess Kavanagh-Williams, Hannah Bluck and Kerin Lake.
Wales led 13-0 and then 18-5 but Chloe Rollie’s second try, and a further score from Jade Konkel 11 minutes from time, made for a grandstand finish.
A day later in south-west France, Les Bleues extended their winning home record in the Six Nations to 13 matches. After this latest shutout, Les Bleues have now stopped their opponents scoring a single point in seven of those matches.
Bidding to improve on last year’s third-place finish, France got their campaign off to the perfect start thanks to a double from centre Jade Le Pesq and tries from fellow backs Jessy Tremouliere and Cyrielle Banet.
Last but not least, England captain Sarah Hunter capped a superb display at the back of the Red Roses scrum with a hat-trick of tries as the 2017 champions began their title defence with an 42-7 victory over Italy.
The game was evenly poised at 7-7 at the break after Valentina Ruzza cancelled out Sarah Bern’s early score. But England pulled away in the second half with fly-half Katy Mclean's simple penalty starting the scoring as the Red Roses regained the lead.
Hunter got her first from the back of a maul before Poppy Cleall and Abigail Dow, with her sixth in three tests, got in on the act. Hunter’s second and third scores bookended a try from Ellie Kildunne as England significantly improved on last year’s 29-15 win over the Azzurre at the Twickenham Stoop, the venue for the Red Roses next game against Wales on Saturday.
That match will be followed by Scotland versus France at the Scotstoun Stadium in Glasgow, while round two concludes on Sunday as Ireland and Italy go in search of their first wins of the campaign at Donnybrook.