On one side we have Safi N'Diaye, 86 caps to her name and heading to a third Rugby World Cup, in New Zealand, which will hopefully last from 8 October to 12 November. On the other side, Lina Queyroi, two caps to her name (obtained in September) and about to make her debut on the most prestigious rugby stage in the world.

Between the two, a gulf of experience but the same relentless desire to become world champions.

"I didn't expect this selection at all," says Lina, 21, who joined the extended French women's squad only last July.

"It's a source of pride to be part of the 32 and I'm very happy to be here. We had been training for over a month to be part of this list and the fact that we were in it and knew we were going was a relief and a pleasure."

Trained in Payzac-Savignac in Dordogne, the versatile fly-half is already a champion in her own right – European U18 sevens winner and twice French 15s champion with the U18s; a title that remains her most outstanding memory, for now.

"It's a lot of memories, a lot of sharing with friends when we were on the field," she says.

"I started with my sister (Maylis) and I remember the first steps we took together. And to get there, it makes you remember where you started from. It's important to think back to where we started. I know that in Payzac they are all very proud of me and they follow me, that makes me happy."

Safi's end of career

In contrast, the powerful second row Safi N'Diaye's first international came 10 years ago. And throughout her career, she has accumulated many honours: two French championship titles with Castres (where she started at the age of 12), six with Montpellier, two Grand Slams and two victories in the Women's Six Nations.

She is one Rugby World Cup title away from capping her prolific career, having won bronze in both France in 2014 and Ireland in 2017.

"It's a World Cup I've been waiting for for a long time, which was already postponed for a year because of the pandemic. So it's a real point of pride to be able to participate in my third World Cup, in the land of rugby that is New Zealand with all that it implies," she said.

"This latest adventure, I'm living it fully. It's enjoying every moment, savouring, realising how lucky we are, sharing every moment with the girls on the field, sharing my experience, realising how lucky we are every time, every jersey we wear.

"It's when you're near the end that you realise how far you've come and you savour it. I'm really at a point in my career where I'm enjoying every moment, I'm taking everything there is to take."

France confident

France is expected to be a strong team and will have to deal with the extra pressure that comes with that. They are considered capable of toppling New Zealand, the current world champions, and England, the tournament favourites.

But the recent 26-19 loss to Italy (fifth in the World Rugby Women's Ranking powered by Capgemini) in Biella on 9 September – in the second leg of their two-match warm-up window – has dampened spirits and started to instil doubt among observers.

But not among the players who will kick off Rugby World Cup 2021 on 8 October against South Africa at Eden Park in Auckland.

"We're not worried," says N'Diaye. "We know very well that every team works very hard and Italy also improves every year. We know we weren't up to scratch during this preparation but we're not worried.

"We know what we are capable of, we know what we can do on the pitch. We didn't lose our rugby like that. It was a mental trigger and the group has tightened up.

"We're going to be able to really work together, find some finer points between us and we're looking forward to that first game."

The defeat also marked Queyroi's baptism of fire. Her first start – after winning her maiden cap a week before against the same opponent – was somewhat unsettling.

"It was a bit of a mixed bag," she admits. "With what happened on the pitch where we didn't have a great game and we lost in Italy, it changed things a bit.

"But it's always a source of pride to wear the French team jersey. I was well surrounded and we have a group that knows how to make young players feel comfortable.”

"It is certain that we would have been more confident if we had had two good victories," adds N'Diaye. "But at the same time, it allows us to work, to keep our feet on the ground and to realise that every team works and that there will be no easy matches.

"It's a World Cup, it's a new adventure, we start from scratch every time. It's really a different competition with the environment and everything that happens around us.

"But we know what the French team is capable of in recent years. We managed to beat New Zealand for example, to beat South Africa too. So now we've tightened up, we've talked to each other, we've told each other things. We work very hard. We have quality training sessions. We can't wait."

Big resources in place

Semi-finalists at the first showpiece in 1991, France have never been able to place higher than third place in Rugby World Cup; a position they obtained in 1994, 2002, 2006, 2014 and 2017, that is to say, in five of the eight previous editions.

"We've been working very hard for five years to be world champions," said N'Diaye.

"The federation does not put in place the resources to ensure that we do not qualify or that we come third. I think about it every day, when it's hard, when I go to training.

"The French team has never been world champion in the women's category and this is what motivates us every day.

"The federation is putting all the resources in place for us to be world champions. They also put all the resources in place for the France 7s team to be Olympic champions and they brought home the silver medal.

"We are a great team. We have already beaten the best. If we don't have this ambition, we are not the French team. It's an ambition we must have and we know it will be difficult, we know that all teams prepare very hard.

"We are not pretentious. We know we're not going to go there as favourites, and we relish that. There are girls with experience in the group and girls who arrive with a lot of desire, with their youth and enthusiasm. And with this combination we hope to go as far as possible.

Make it dreamy

The stakes are also high for the French rugby union, which dates the start of the women's rugby boom in France back to 2014, when it hosted Rugby World Cup.

For the past eight years, the number of female licensees has continued to grow year on year, in parallel with the performances of the French 15s and sevens teams.

"It is obvious that it is events like this that will help women's sport and women's rugby to evolve," confirms N'Diaye.

"There has been a lot of media coverage, people really know us. So it's obvious that it's also one of our missions to create vocations. There may be little girls or boys who will see a rugby match for the first time and a women's rugby match and who also want to dream of doing what we do and maybe one day wear the blue jersey.

"This is one of our missions and we hope that we will be able to transmit a lot of emotions because we do this sport to have emotions but also to give them. On the field we will try to enjoy ourselves as much as possible to transmit all that and to help women's rugby evolve.

"It's true that in 10 years we have seen a huge evolution. But we know that if we get good results, if we create emotions, if we make people dream, we will still have spin-offs for women's rugby.”

Photo credit: Julien Poupart/France Rugby