The most eagerly anticipated Women’s Six Nations for some time begins this weekend with England’s rivals trying to change the narrative of recent years.

The Red Roses won last year’s shortened Women’s Six Nations – their third in a row – courtesy of a narrow 10-6 win over France in the final and go into the latest campaign in as strong a position as ever, at the top of the World Rugby Women’s Rankings powered by Capgemini and with an 18-match winning run behind them.

With Rugby World Cup 2021 looming large on the horizon, the TikTok Women’s Six Nations takes on added significance this year and the Red Roses will be determined to show why they are the team to beat not only in Europe but at the game’s global showpiece.

Led by World Rugby Coach of the Year 2021, Simon Middleton, England haven’t known what it is like to be beaten since New Zealand won 28-13 in the Women’s Rugby Super Series in July 2019. 

Against European opposition, the winning run stands at 22 matches and England understandably go into Saturday’s opening match against Scotland in Edinburgh as heavy favourites.

England have never lost to Scotland in the Six Nations era, their last defeat coming in 1999, three years before the tournament took on its current format.

Despite a comfortable 52-10 victory at home last year, which extended their winning run over the Scots to 23 matches, World Rugby Women’s 15s Player of the Year Zoe Aldcroft knows Scotland will provide a stern test when they travel to the Dam Health Stadium in Round 1.

“They just qualified for the World Cup in Dubai, so they will be on a massive high at the moment,” she said.

“I think it will be a really competitive game up in Edinburgh and we are really looking forward to getting the Six Nations started really.”

A win for England would not improve their rating in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings powered by Capgemini because the 22.78-point differential between the teams means they are expected to win, and win well.

However, Scotland stand to pick up a minimum of two rating points if they spring one of the biggest surprises in women’s rugby history.

Win by more than 15 points and a record high of eighth in the rankings will be theirs, with Italy dropping below them.

For Scotland captain, Rachel Malcolm, 2021 was a bitter-sweet year in that she effectively missed the entire Women's Six Nations campaign but bounced back to lead Scotland to victory in the Rugby World Cup 2021 qualifiers.

“Getting injured after two-and-a-half seconds of last year’s Championship wasn’t ideal but it was a brilliant opportunity for some of the other girls to step up and get those opportunities to play,” said Malcolm, who watched on as her team-mates beat Wales to finish fifth in 2021.

“I love the Six Nations, it’s the most exciting time of year for us as athletes and we always look forward to it, so I’m absolutely chomping at the bit to get going and I can’t wait.”

Rugby World Cup on the horizon

2021 runners-up France are seen as England’s main challengers and Les Bleues’ captain Gaëlle Hermet is desperate to go one better than last year.

Buoyed by back-to-back wins against the Black Ferns in November, Hermet wants to see her team take another step forward as they build towards the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

“Every match we play we want to play good rugby, but overall, yes, we want to go and win the Six Nations,” she said.

“It’s the next stage in our World Cup cycle and it will also be the last competition before the World Cup, so it is very important.”

Les Bleues begin their campaign on Sunday in Grenoble at the Stade des Alpes against Italy, a side ranked five places and 12 points below them.

As such, France, ranked third, cannot improve their rating if they win on the weekend.

But Italy will climb above the USA if they avoid defeat against France with sixth place possible if Ireland also fail to beat Wales.

A repeat of their 31-12 win over Les Bleues in 2019 would lift the Azzurre to fifth, equalling their highest ever position and one they last occupied for a week in April 2021.

Another win over France – Italy have only managed four in the history of meetings between the teams – would be a fitting way for Beatrice Rigoni to mark what is set to be her 50th cap.

“It’s going to be a challenging game without a doubt, it’s going to be an uphill start to the Championship for us,” the pacy back said.

“France are a very good team, a very strong team, and it will be a difficult game, there’s no denying it.

“I’m thinking in terms of their fan base that will also have a part to play but these are the types of games we love playing in.”

Ireland are in it to win it

On paper and in terms of the rankings, Ireland against Wales at the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) ground would appear to be the closest of the three fixtures.

Falling as the middle game in round one, it pits the seventh-best team in the world against the side ranked 11th but the difference in points between the two is the least of any of this weekend’s match-ups.

Ireland are a fraction over five-and-a-half points better off but they failed to qualify for Rugby World Cup 2021, whereas Wales will be present.

Also, this will be the first Women's Six Nations campaign for the respective coaches and it will be interesting to see which of the two manages to get relatively new-looking squads on the same page the quickest.

Wales’ Ioan Cunningham has a head start on his new Irish counterpart Greg McWilliams as he was in place for the November internationals when wins over South Africa and Japan were followed by defeat to Canada.

Since then full-time contracts have been awarded to a dozen Wales players, including electrifying winger Jasmine Joyce.

Wales last won on Irish soil in 2019, triumphing 15-13 at UCD Bowl that November, but have only won three of the last 12 meetings in the overall head-to-head.

Should Ireland cap what is their 100th match in Women's Six Nations history with a win, they will climb above the USA into sixth place in the rankings.

It is seven years since Ireland won the second of their two titles but new captain Nichola Fryday expects nothing less than to bring home the trophy.

“I think that’s the target for every team, you don’t go into a Championship thinking we’re not going to win it because that’s what makes it competitive,” said the Exeter Chiefs star.

Meanwhile, Wales will return to the top 10 if they beat Ireland, swapping places with Spain. They could climb as high as eighth if they win by more than 15 points and Scotland are beaten by England, a scenario which would see the Welsh ranked one place above Ireland. This would give Wales their highest ranking since February 2020.

Fly-half Elinor Snowsill says Wales are “riding a bit of a wave” but recognises Ireland away is a tough opener.

“Without a doubt, they are going to be strong, and there’s going to be a huge backlash because they are the only team that have failed to qualify for the World Cup, and they’ll be out to prove that it’s wrong, and they should be the ones there,” she said.

“So, I know exactly what sort of mentality they’ll be coming into the game with but we are on the up as well, and we are riding a bit of a wave at the moment.

“I think it’s going to be a really good match and anything could happen on the day.”

Blanket TV coverage

The TikTok Women’s Six Nations 2022 will have the most comprehensive broadcast coverage in its history.

Globally, 136 countries will be covering this year’s Championship across terrestrial and streaming services, making it the most accessible TikTok Women’s Six Nations ever.

In the UK, home nations games will appear on BBC and S4C, who will be broadcasting all games, with one match per weekend on network channels.

In Ireland, all of the games will be broadcast across RTÉ and Virgin Media, while Sky Italia provides exclusive coverage for Italian fans.

In France, all of the national side’s games will be shown on France TV, and available on either terrestrial TV or its streaming platform.

Read more: Women’s Six Nations 2022: Plenty to play for as Championship returns >>