Grand Slam winners England are favourites to defend their Women's Six Nations title in a year where for three of the sides – Ireland, Scotland and Italy – the Championship forms an important part of their build-up to the European qualification tournament for Rugby World Cup 2021.
The Red Roses swept the board last season, their first as a group of full-time professionals, scoring a record 278 points and only conceding 45.
With three away games as opposed to two, their task is harder on paper this year, especially with France first up in what is sure to be a cauldron-like atmosphere in Pau.
However, Simon Middleton's charges have beaten Les Bleues four times in the last 12 months and will go there confident of getting off to a winning start, even with injuries to key players like Marlie Packer.
England and France, along with Wales, have already secured their place at the next Rugby World Cup in New Zealand having finished the 2017 edition among the top seven teams.
Scotland, for so long the recipients of the wooden spoon in the Championship, are seemingly in better shape than ever before thanks to impressive wins in Spain and South Africa under their new coach Philip Doyle, the mastermind behind Ireland's most successful era.
Now coached by Adam Griggs, Ireland will be desperate to improve on last year's fifth-place finish, while Wales, under the command of caretaker coaches Chris Horsman, Geraint Lewis and Chris Wyatt, will want to break into the top half of the table after finishing fourth in 2019.
For Italy, matching or bettering their second place from last season will be a tall order with two away games to start off with, against Wales and France. The outcome of this weekend's game could set the tone for the rest of their campaign, which includes home fixtures against Scotland and England.
"We're looking forward to our nice away trip against France"— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) January 30, 2020
While filming with us at the World Rugby Hall of Fame in Rugby, UK, @englandrugby ace Sarah Hunter previewed her side's first match in the #SixNations #WomenInRugby pic.twitter.com/cdVtT4rdOh
WOMEN'S SIX NATIONS 2020
FRANCE (4) v ENGLAND (2)
Head to head
Played: 44 – England leads 30-14
Points for: France 517 / England 930
Average score: France 11-21 England
First meeting: 12 April, 1991 – RWC 1991 – England 13-0 France (Cardiff Arms Park)
Most recent meeting: 16 November, 2019 – England 17-15 France (Sandy Park, Exeter)
Six Nations 2020 finishing positions: France (third), England (Champions, Grand Slam winners)
World Rugby Women's 15s Player of the Year nominee Pauline Bourdon will switch from scrum-half to fly-half for France's opener against England at the Stade du Hameau in Pau. She is partnered at half-back by Laure Sansus, who is making only her second Championship start in the nine jersey. Bourdon is joined in the starting XV by winger Caroline Boujard, who also dotted down for three tries in last season, while the ever-dangerous Jessy Trémoulière takes her familiar place at full-back. One notable change in the pack comes in the second-row where Madoussou Fall gets her first Six Nations start ahead of Safi N’Diaye. A veteran of 17 matches against England, N'Diaye has to settle for the bench on this occasion. Gaëlle Hermet continues as captain.
Despite an injury-disrupted build-up, England are still able to name a vastly experienced team, one that includes a caps centurion in the forwards and backs in Loughborough Lightning duo, number eight Sarah Hunter and evergreen fly-half Katy Daley-McLean. Club team-mate Amelie Harper is in line to make her debut off the bench, while fellow replacement Vickii Cornborough will bring up 50 caps for her country if she comes on.
- In the 18 Six Nations meetings, France have won eight times compared to England's 10
- The last time the sides met in the opening round of the Championship in 2017, England ran out 26-13 winners
- England's only defeat since they last played France away in the Six Nations in 2018 was against New Zealand in the Women's Rugby Super Series 2019 in San Diego, USA. They have won 15 of their last 16 fixtures
- England averaged nearly 56 points per game in winning the Grand Slam last year
- The Red Roses' tally of 278 points and 45 tries is a record since Italy were admitted into the competition in 2007
- England winger Jess Breach top the try-scoring charts in 2019 with nine
- England will replace New Zealand at number one with a victory by more than 15 points
- France will climb above Canada into third place in victory
- England cannot lose second place as would still be 2.47 rating points ahead even if defeated by more than 15 points
WALES (8) v ITALY (7)
Played 19 – Wales leads 12-6 with one draw
Points for: Wales 360 / Italy 226
Average score: Wales 18-11 Italy
First meeting: 15 May, 1998 – RWC 1998 – Wales 12-10 Italy (Barcelona, Spain)
Most recent meeting: 9 February, 2019 – Italy 3-3 Wales (Stadio Via del Mar, Lecce)
Six Nations 2020 finishing positions: Wales (fourth), Italy (second)
Jasmine Joyce and Hannah Jones make a return to the Welsh ranks after spending the November test series playing sevens in Australia for Adelaide University. Alisha Butchers, who also played for the Adelaide ‘Romas’, has been named on a bench that also includes uncapped Ospreys prop Ruth Lewis. There are first Six Nations starts for full-back Kayleigh Powell, who made her Wales debut in the November win over Ireland, and front-rows Gwenllian Pyrs and Kelsey Jones while Molly Kelly, Georgia Evans and Paige Randall are set to make their Championship debut if they come off the bench after earning their first caps in November.
Number eight Elisa Giordano will hope her second taste of captaincy is better than the first - they lost 60-3 to England when she wore the armband for the first time in November. Sara Barattin – already Italy’s highest appearance maker – will win her 92nd cap at scrum-half, alongside Beatrice Rigoni at No.10. Elsewhere, Vittoria Ostuni Minuzzi is set to make her international debut at full-back,
- Of the 13 meetings between these teams in the Women's Six Nations, each side has won six matches, with the 2019 contest ending in a 3-3 stalemate
- After dominating the fixture in the early years, Wales have won just one of the last six meetings with Italy in the Championship
- Italy achieved a best-ever runners-up finish in 2019
- Wales have not finished in the top half of the table since they were runners-up in 2009
- This game pits together the strongest scrum in the Championship (Wales) with the weakest (Italy) in terms of possession won in the 2019 Championship
- Wales will be the higher-ranked if they win by more than 15 points – for the first time since March 2018
- Italy will climb above USA into sixth in event of a draw
- Victory will lift Italy above USA and Australia into their highest ever position of fifth
- Wales cannot fall from eighth even with a loss by more than 15 points
#IrelandWomen— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) January 31, 202
Cliodhna Moloney can't wait to face Scotland at Energia Park on Sunday. A year out with injury and a move to Wasps have whetted her appetite and now she can't wait to see what the new faces in the squad can do. #Womens6Nations
Watch: https://t.co/UhrtmIb3SA pic.twitter.com/doFKGJjhOB
IRELAND (10) v SCOTLAND (11)
Played 28 – Scotland leads 15-13
Points for: Ireland 435 / Scotland 299
Average score: Ireland 15-10 Scotland
First meeting: 14 February, 1993 – Scotland 10-0 Ireland (Raeburn Place, Edinburgh)
Most recent meeting: 8 February, 2019 – Ireland 22-5 Scotland (Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow)
Six Nations 2020 finishing positions: Ireland (fifth), Scotland (sixth)
Aoife Doyle makes her return to the Ireland side after just over four years away with the sevens set-up. She is joined on the wing by Beibhinn Parsons with Lauren Delany named at full-back. Sene Naoupu and Michelle Claffey make up the centre partnership with Ellen Murphy and Kathryn Dane at fly-half and scrum-half respectively. Up front, Cliodhna Moloney is named at hooker and is joined by Lindsay Peat and Linda Djougang in the front row. Aoife McDermott and Nichola Fryday are named in the second row with captain, Ciara Griffin, joined by Edel McMahon and Anna Caplice in the back row.
Scotland head coach Philip Doyle has made hree changes to the team that defeated Spain earlier this month. Rachel Malcolm returns from injury to captain the visitors at Energia Park, Donnybrook. Full-back Chloe Rollie has also recovered to take on the full-back duties while Mairi McDonald will start at scrum-half for what will only be her second cap for Scotland.
- Scotland’s only victory in the last 14 meetings with Ireland was a 15-12 victory on their last visit in March 2018 – they had won the first 14 tests between the sides
- Ireland's largest-ever victory in the Six Nations was against Scotland in 2015 (73-3)
- Scotland were on an 11-game losing run against Ireland in the Championship, before winning 15-12 in 2018
- Scotland have won their last three away fixtures (Spain and South Africa, twice)
- Ireland have only won one of their last 10 matches, and that was against Scotland in Glasgow last year
- Scotland coach Philip Doyle comes up against the side he coached to the 2013 and 2015 titles
- Ireland cannot climb even with a victory by more than 15 points
- A victorious Scotland will enter the top 10 for the first time since the rankings were introduced in February 2016 – condemning Ireland to their lowest ever position of 11th
- This would be the first time Scotland have been ranked above Ireland
The World Rugby Women's Rankings update every Monday at 12:00 GMT.