England’s Leanne Riley has been painting by numbers during her spare time in camp this week, a pastime that requires structure.

However, at Twickenham Stoop on Saturday she expects to come up against a French side who do things in a rather more unstructured – but very effective – way in the final of the Women’s Six Nations 2021.

“I love playing against France, we have had some brilliant matches against them in the last few years. You just never know what they are going to do with ball in hand and that makes the prospect of facing them even more exciting,” scrum-half Riley said from the England team hotel in the build-up to the big match.

“They have won their two Pool B matches leading into this final while we have won our two Pool A matches, so we know it is going to be a hard-fought affair against opponents we have a lot of respect for.

“The last time we played them was at Twickenham back in November and we needed an injury time penalty from Emily Scarratt to come out of that one with a 25-23 victory to our name. So, when people tune to in to watch this weekend on television or on the internet then they can expect another great game, I hope.”

Riley, the 27-year-old Harlequins player who now has 42 international caps to her name, ordered some painting by numbers kits a couple of weeks ago to keep herself and some of her team-mates entertained while away from family during the showpiece tournament.

“During the lockdowns last year when I was stuck at home, I completed a couple of jigsaws. So I thought I had ticked that box and started looking out for another pastime to fill the spare time during this month when we were going to be in our England bubble,” she explains.

“Painting by numbers popped up when I was doing an internet search, so I spoke to my England team-mates Sarah Beckett and Jess Breach and bought us all some kits.

“I haven’t completed mine yet, I don’t even think I am halfway through it. But when the weather has been nice it has been good to sit outside in the hotel grounds and give it a go and switch off a bit from rugby.”

Two in-form sides with a lot of history

Come Saturday, Riley and her team-mates will be fully switched on to rugby as they look to add this year’s Women’s Six Nations title to Grand Slams they secured in 2019 and 2020.

Since the end of the 2018 tournament, the Red Roses have won 13 games in a row in the event, but are well aware that Annick Hayraud’s French outfit will give them their toughest test of 2021.

France were the last team to beat Simon Middleton’s charges in the Women’s Six Nations, back in March 2018 in Grenoble, and they have scored 109 points in two games so far this year to see off Wales and Ireland with ease in the pool stages.

England have scored 119 on their way to defeating Scotland and Italy, and Riley said: “We felt that we played well in the first half against Scotland and then well in the second half against Italy, but a full 80-minute performance is needed to beat a team like France.

“We know that we have that in us, and all the training we have done since the Italy game on 10 April has been geared towards getting ourselves in the best place possible as a group to be able to do that.”

Focused on Le Crunch

Riley may now be well-established in the Red Roses squad, but her life in international rugby began with England Sevens.

“I loved playing sevens,” she said, “and when I transitioned back into the 15s game there were lots of skills I could take from that format with me to help me become a more regular and consistent scrum-half.”

Riley’s England 15s debut in 2013 came on the wing, but fast forward a few years and she is a regular member of the squad as an out and out number nine.

She went to Rugby World Cup 2017 and was rewarded with one of the full-time contracts when England were able to go down that route in 2019.

Last year was also a busy one for Riley – who helps run Guildfordians Girls, which is working to get more young females into the sport – as she helped England win a Grand Slam, had an ankle operation, got a dog called Tess and got engaged.

“Despite it being a quiet year for many things, I managed to do quite a lot on and off the rugby field,” she jokes.

“I cannot wait to see Tess and my fiancé after the weekend, but for now my full focus is on us beating France on Saturday.”

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