After an action-packed start to the Women’s Six Nations, the Championship resumes with another set of eagerly-awaited fixtures, none more so than the one at Castle Park in Doncaster, where England face France in the battle of last year’s top two.
While the battle between the sides ranked second and third in the world should provide a suitably climactic finish to the weekend, it all begins on Friday night in Glasgow when Scotland host Ireland. Then, on Saturday, Wales travel to play Italy at a brand-new venue in Lecce.
We take a look at the team news and how the Women’s World Rugby Rankings may be affected by all three internationals.
Scotland (11) v Ireland (10)
Kick-off: 19:35 (local time), Friday 8 February
Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow
Scotland make two changes to their starting line-up for their second consecutive home fixture. Deborah McCormack returns from injury to come into the second row having missed the November tests and loss to Italy last weekend. She will win her 29th cap following her debut back in 2014. Meanwhile, Sarah Bonar moves from the second row to number eight to replace Siobhan Cattigan who picked up an injury against the Azzurre. Centre Lisa Thomson continues as captain in an otherwise unchanged matchday 23 for the hosts.
Ireland head coach Adam Griggs has made three personnel changes and one positional switch from the team that took to the field for last week’s 51-7 defeat to England. Emma Hooban, 21, steps up for her first Six Nations start at hooker, with the versatile Leah Lyons moving to the tight-head position. Cork native Anna Caplice, who impressed off the bench against England, slots into the back-row at blindside flanker alongside Claire Molloy – the most experienced member of the squad with 65 caps – and captain Ciara Griffin, who wins her 25th cap this weekend.
There is just one change in the back-line where winger Alison Miller starts her first game almost exactly a year on from breaking her leg against Italy. There could be two Ireland debuts at Scotstoun with sevens regulars Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird, fresh from playing her part in the team’s historic fourth-place finish in Sydney, and Claire Boles both added to the bench.
- Scotland defeated Ireland for the first time in their history in last year's Championship: 15-12
- Scotland are on a four-game losing streak at home
- Ireland have lost their last four away games
- Scotland cannot overtake Ireland, no matter how well they win
- Defeat would cost Scotland 11th place in the rankings with South Africa benefitting from their fall
- Ireland will move up two places to eighth if they win by more than 15 points and Wales fail to beat Italy
Italy (7) v Wales (9)
Kick-off: 20:00 (local), Saturday 9 February
Stadio Via del Mar (Ettore Giardiniero), Lecce
Hooker Melissa Bettoni is set to win her 50th cap after Azzurre head coach Andrea Di Giandomenico opted to make just one change to the side that beat Scotland 28-7. The only alteration comes at loose-head prop where Silvia Tirani replaces Gaia Giacomoli. Replacement front-rower Elena Serilli will win her first cap if called upon from the bench.
Wales head coach Rowland Philips has made two changes and two positional – all in the forwards. There is a new second-row partnership with Ospreys team-mates, Natalia John and Gwen Crabb, earning their second starts for Wales while Siwan Lillicrap moves to number eight to win her 25th cap and Beth Lewis moves back to the blindside. The backline is unchanged with Elinor Snowsill set to win her 50th Wales cap if she comes on from the bench.
- Via del Mare is hosting its first-ever international rugby match
- Wales are on a five-game losing streak in the Six Nations
- Wales won 20-8 when they visited Italy in the 2017 Championship
- Italy have won six out of the last nine games against Wales, having lost the first nine, although six of those games were decided by a single score
- The away side has won five out of the last six fixtures between the sides
- New Italy captain Michela Sillari kicked four from four in the round-one victory v Scotland
- Italy cannot climb any higher than seventh but would close the gap on Australia above them to under two points if they win by over 15 points
- Wales will be the higher-ranked of the two nations if they win
England (2) v France (3)
Kick-off: 12:45 (local), Sunday 10 February
Castle Park, Doncaster
England head coach Simon Middleton has made four changes to his starting XV, all of them in the forwards. Harlequins teammates Vickii Cornborough and Abbie Scott return at prop and second row respectively, and as a result, Poppy Cleall moves to flanker. Poppy Leitch has been called into the back-row to replace Marlie Packer, who is rested having picked up a shoulder knock in England’s opening game against Ireland.
France have made three changes to their matchday squad, all of them on the bench. Agathe Sochat, Coumba Diallo and Laurianne Lissar take the place of Laure Touye, Fiona Lecat and Morgane Peyronnet.
- France won last season's fixture in Grenoble, 18-17
- Les Bleues have not won in England since 2015
- France have won nine out of their last 10 tests, their only defeat coming against New Zealand in November
- Expect a close one! An aggregate of 39 points or less have been scored in each of the last eight matches
- A French victory would see the nations swap places
- England cannot catch New Zealand at the top of the rankings but the gap between the two nations would be reduced to 2.36 points in the event of a large win
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