The lineups have been named as England and France finalize preparations for their Round 4 Super Series showdown on Wednesday in Chula Vista, CA.
Both teams will be confident moving into this matchup. The Red Roses have taken two wins from two matches, clobbering the United States in the first round before grinding out a very tough win over Canada with a young and inexperienced side.
France, after an inauspicious start which saw them take one on the chin against the Canadians, are coming off their second consecutive victory over World #1 New Zealand. The two best European teams are no strangers to one another, and this game will be tightly contested in all areas of the field. In a contest loaded with star players on both sides, expect to see fireworks; big collisions, nifty footwork, and silky skills await.
Red Roses bringing back the big guns
Given the importance of this clash with respect to the Super Series standings, and the age-old rivalry between the English and the French, England Head Coach Simon Middleton has brought his most experienced players back into the side. Sarah Bern, Abbie Scott, Marlie Packer and Poppy Cleall return to the starting pack, while the 114 cap Sarah Hunter captains the unit from the back of the scrum.
Leanne Riley gets her first start of the series at Scrumhalf, and will pair up with Saracens flyhalf Zoe Harrison in the 9, 10 channel. Playmaker Emily Scarratt reclaims her starting spot in the 13 shirt, while Kelly Smith, Lydia Thompson and Sarah McKenna look to continue their strong work in the back three.
Keys to the game
The Red Roses are going to need a well-disciplined performance on Wednesday if they are to keep France at bay. In the Canada game, England were caught giving away penalties a few times as the Maple Leafs put them under pressure with their physical, uncompromising approach. Against a side with quality kickers such as Jessy Tremouliere, silly penalties just gift the opposition three points. This English side will be vastly more experienced than the one that played on Saturday though, and should be able to restore order throughout the squad.
Additionally, the Red Roses have to find their rhythm in the forwards again. They were not their usual dominant self against Canada, and it clogged their whole game plan up. Establishing dominance at the gainline is what makes England who they are; if they do that on Wednesday they will find themselves playing some good running rugby.
For Les Bleus, it's all about consistency. Here is a side that in the 18 months has won a grand slam, defeated the Black Ferns twice, and had the world player of the year, yet also lost badly to England, got handled by Italy, and was smashed by Canada. When they're on they are perhaps the best team in the world, but too often they get themselves into a funk and play lousy rugby.
Tactically, France will want to make sure it fronts up physically to a big and imposing English side. Against Canada the French were bullied, but in the following match with New Zealand, the French players flexed their muscles and really put the clamp down on any Black Fern movement. This proves they have it in them to win the battle in contact, it just depends if they can get in the right head space against England. Lastly, Les Bleus is going to have to be strong in the set piece. England has a devastating scrum, and a ruthless maul that it uses as a weapon of mass destruction inside the 22. However, so too does France. The team with the better set piece in this one has a great shot at winning the game.
Across the Atlantic, they call this fixture "Le Crunch". Wednesday's battle figures to live up to its name, with both teams firmly in position to claim the Super Series title. Each team is hot entering this game, and the rivalry between the two means there will be no love lost out on the pitch. This will be close, and the team that makes fewer mistakes is going to be the one that wins out. The class and composure of the English will see them as the team that holds up over two halves, despite a strong performance from the French. England 30-24 France.
15. Sarah McKenna (Saracens Women – 23 caps)
14. Lydia Thompson (Worcester Warriors Women – 42 caps)
13. Emily Scarratt (Loughborough Lightning – 80 caps)
12. Amber Reed (Bristol Bears Women – 51 caps)
11. Kelly Smith (Gloucester-Hartpury Women –11 caps)
10. Zoe Harrison (Saracens Women – 15 caps)
9. Leanne Riley (Harlequins Ladies – 29 caps)
1. Vickii Cornborough (Harlequins Ladies – 47 caps)
2. Heather Kerr (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks – 17 caps)
3. Sarah Bern (Bristol Bears Women – 26 caps)
4. Catherine O’Donnell (Loughborough Lightning – 14 caps)
5. Abbie Scott (Harlequins Ladies – 38 caps)
6. Poppy Cleall (Saracens Women – 31 caps)
7. Marlie Packer (Saracens Women – 66 caps)
8. Sarah Hunter (capt) (Loughborough Lightning – 114 caps)
16. Lark Davies (Worcester Warriors Women – 19 caps)
17. Ellena Perry (Saracens Women – 5 caps)
18. Hannah Botterman (Saracens Women – 12 caps)
19. Zoe Aldcroft (Gloucester-Hartpury Women – 11 caps)
20. Sarah Beckett (Firwood Waterloo Ladies – 8 caps)
21. Claudia Macdonald (Wasps FC Ladies – 6 caps)
22. Emily Scott (Harlequins Ladies – 30 caps)
23. Millie Wood (Gloucester-Hartpury Women – 6 caps)
1. Anaelle Deshaye
2. Laure Touye
3. Clara Joyeux
4. Celine Ferer
5. Audrey Forlani
6. Brandy Cazorla
7. Couma Diallo
8. Gaelle Hermet
9. Pauline Bourdon
10. Camille Imart
11. Banet Cyrielle
12. Camille Cabalou
13. Elise Pignot
14. Caroline Boujard
15. Jessy Tremouliere
16. Agathe Sochat
17. Caroline Thomas
18. Celia Domain
19. Madoussou Fall
20. Axelle Berthoumieu
21. Morgane Peyronnet
22. Laure Sansus
23. Marine Menager