Following last year’s condensed format, the Women’s Six Nations 2022 will return at the end of March with a full schedule of round-robin fixtures.
Taking place once again in a standalone window, this year’s Championship will be an important staging post on the road to Rugby World Cup 2021 for England, France, Italy, Wales and potentially Scotland.
England have won the previous three Women’s Six Nations and remain the team to beat in 2022, heading into the tournament on an 18-match winning run.
As the Red Roses bid to make it four in a row we have taken a look through the fixture schedule to pick out five matches you will not want to miss.
France v Italy, Stade des Alpes, 27 March (kick-off: 15:00 GMT)
If any of the challengers will head into this year’s Championship with the belief that they can dethrone England, then it is France.
Since the start of 2020, Les Bleues’ only defeats have come against the Red Roses and four of those five matches were decided by four points or fewer.
Annick Hayraud’s side will therefore be determined to kick off the 2022 Women’s Six Nations with victory when Italy visit Grenoble at the end of March.
The hosts have a good record against the Azzurre, especially at home, where they are unbeaten in a run that dates back to 1986.
However, Italy head into the Championship buoyed by their qualification for RWC 2021 – at the expense of Women’s Six Nations rivals Ireland and Scotland – and will be looking to lay down an early marker in the south of France.
Wales v Scotland, Cardiff Arms Park, 2 April (KO: 16:45 GMT)
These teams last met in the fifth-place play-off at the end of the condensed Women’s Six Nations 2021, with Scotland winning 27-20 in Glasgow.
Both will hope to make more of an impression as the Championship returns to a round-robin format having enjoyed encouraging ends to last year.
Hosts Wales won two of their three matches in November, beating both Japan and South Africa to record their first test wins in two years, before losing to 14-player Canada.
Their previous victory came against Scotland, a team they have lost to just twice in 18 matches since 2005.
Having followed up qualification for the RWC 2021 Final Qualification Tournament with their own win against Japan, however, Scotland coach Bryan Easson will feel his side are on the rise and a rare defeat of Wales would certainly back that up.
Ireland v Italy, Musgrave Park, 10 April (KO: 17:00 GMT)
As they watched Italy celebrate on the pitch in Parma it would have provided Ireland’s players with scant consolation that their sole victory of the RWC 2021 Europe Qualifier came against the team that won the tournament.
A couple of moments of magic from Beibhinn Parsons had given Ireland hope of booking their ticket to New Zealand, only to be overhauled by Scotland in the last play of their final match.
Ireland’s 15-7 victory against Italy in September was their 18th in 20 matches against the Azzurre since their first meeting in Nice in 1997.
Italy have never beaten the Irish in Ireland, but Andrea Di Giandomenico’s squad will feel they have never had a better opportunity to put that right – and secure a modicum of revenge for last season’s third-place play-off defeat.
The Azzurre’s most recent win against Ireland came during the 2019 Women’s Six Nations, when a Giada Franco brace of tries helped them edge to a 29-27 victory.
England v Ireland, Mattioli Woods Welford Road Stadium, 24 April (KO: 12:00 GMT)
Due to the condensed format of the 2021 Championship, this will be the first time England and Ireland have met in a test since 2020.
On that occasion in Doncaster tries from Sarah Hunter, Abby Dow, Jess Breach, Vicky Fleetwood and Sarah McKenna secured a 27-0 win for the hosts.
That was England’s eighth victory in a row in the fixture and as Simon Middleton’s side are currently on an 18-match winning run they will head to Leicester intent on making it nine.
Certainly, a maiden win against the Red Roses in England, and a first victory anywhere against the defending champions since 2015, would help Ireland move on from a disappointing 2021.
France v England, Stade Jean Dauger, 30 April (KO: 14:15 GMT)
As in the men’s tournament, the potentially Championship-defining meeting of France and England has been reserved for the final round of action.
By the time Les Bleues welcome the Red Roses to Bayonne, they will hope to be in the hunt for a first Women’s Six Nations title since 2018 and intent on landing a psychological blow ahead of RWC 2021 – where they will meet in Pool C.
France’s last victory against England came during their Grand Slam-winning campaign four years ago, but of the nine defeats since only three have been by more than four points.
England have edged the previous three matches between the sides by two, four and two points respectively and Les Bleues have had chances to win them all.
Buoyed by back-to-back victories against the Black Ferns in November, France will be determined to secure an overdue victory in the fixture, but the Red Roses are not top of the World Rugby Women’s Rankings powered by Capgemini for nothing.
As they build towards RWC 2021, England will not want their mask of invincibility to slip.