England secured a fourth straight Women’s Six Nations title and won the Grand Slam with a 24-12 victory over France in Bayonne on Saturday.

And to further underline their dominance, the all-conquering Red Roses are now 8.20 points clear of New Zealand at the top of the World Rugby Women’s Rankings powered by Capgemini.

Simon Middleton’s side gained just over half a rating point for the win over Les Bleues and are on 96.78 points overall after equalling the longest winning run by an England team, which now stands at 23 straight victories.

Had the margin of victory been more than 15 points, they would also have broken through the 97-point barrier for the first time since the rankings were introduced in February 2016.

England looked on course for a convincing victory of that nature after they responded to the shock of falling behind to an early Romane Menager with three tries of their own.

Prop Sarah Bern touched down twice and Abbie Ward also got in on the act, and with captain Emily Scarratt converting all three and adding a penalty, England enjoyed a 24-7 lead until Annaelle Deshaye reduced the deficit with Les Bleues’ second try in the 68th minute.

France lost third place in the rankings to Canada as a result of the defeat, dropping down to fourth.

Last-gasp drama in Cardiff and Belfast

On a highly competitive weekend of women’s rugby, the two other matches in the Women’s Six Nations 2022 were settled by less than one score.

In the opening match of the day, Italy needed a last-minute penalty from Michela Sillari to continue their good recent record in Cardiff.

Italy had led from the 32nd minute following Sara Barattin's try and Sillari’s conversion while Wales were down to 13 players.

But the hosts took the lead with four minutes to go when Keira Bevan scored a try shortly after Robyn Wilkins had kicked a penalty.

A first win over the Azzurre in Cardiff for 10 years beckoned but Wales gave away a penalty for offside and Sillari made no mistake from the kicking tee.

The victory sees Italy move up two places to sixth in the rankings, while Wales stay in ninth place.

Despite the defeat, Wales hung on for third place in the Women’s Six Nations 2022 table, thereby achieving their first top-half finish since they were runners-up to England in 2009.

In Belfast, the Women’s Six Nations 2022 drew to a thrilling close as Ireland needed a last-gasp try to defeat Scotland 15-14.

Enya Breen dotted down with time already up, which together with her cool conversion, enabled the Irish to win at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast at the third time of asking following two defeats there at Rugby World Cup 2017.

Evie Gallagher had given Scotland a 5-0 lead with a try after only four minutes but Ireland led 8-5 at the break after a penalty from Hannah O’Connor and Neve Jones’ try on the stroke of half-time.

Three penalties from Helen Nelson in a 10-minute spell midway through the second half looked to have got Scotland their first win of the Championship, but Breen had other ideas and it was Ireland who edged it.

Even in victory, Ireland dropped down a place to eighth because of Italy’s success in Wales, while whitewashed Scotland are now out of the Top 10, falling to 11th below Spain.

We take a look at which teams gained and lost ground after this weekend’s matches in the Women’s Six Nations and the Rugby Europe Women’s Trophy as well as the Tri-Series encounter between Japan and Fiji.

Japan recover from early setbacks

Meanwhile, Japan’s first match since the November internationals ended in a 28-14 win against Fijiana in the Tri-Series at Bond University in Australia.

Fijiana stung their higher-ranked opponents by taking a 14-0 lead, however Japan hit back with two converted tries of their own just before the interval.

A penalty try immediately after the restart put the Sakura 15s in front for the first time but victory wasn’t secured until they added a fourth try with eight minutes to go.

Fijiana will now face Australia at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on Friday, and the series will end with Australia taking on Japan back at Bond University the following Tuesday.

The result of the match did not have any impact on the rankings, with Japan remaining in 12th place and Fijiana 21st.

Portugal in punishing mood

The remaining game of the weekend did lead to significant changes, though, with Portugal surging up the rankings on the back of a 57-0 win over Germany.

Portugal started the weekend in 49th place – some 29 places below Germany – but ended it 10 places higher in 39th.

It was Portugal’s second win of the Rugby Europe Women’s Trophy 2021/22 following on from their 10-8 victory over Belgium back in December.

Photo credit: England Rugby