Six Nations Tournament: the French team in the “final” against England, the kingdom of women’s rugby

Tuesday April 23, the French Rugby Federation (FFR) did not fail to announce the good news

Six Nations Tournament: the French team in the “final” against England, the kingdom of women’s rugby

Tuesday April 23, the French Rugby Federation (FFR) did not fail to announce the good news. “The attendance record for a women's rugby match in France will be broken,” according to her, on Saturday April 27, during the clash between Les Bleues and England (5:45 p.m.), counting for the fifth and final day of the Tournament of the six nations. Around 27,000 tickets for the Chaban-Delmas stadium in Bordeaux had already been sold on Friday, to attend the unofficial “final” of the competition, between the last two undefeated teams.

This support will not be too much for the French, who have been seeking to win the tournament since 2018. But they should not frighten the Red Roses too much. In 2023, the English club defeated Les Bleues and won a fifth Grand Slam in a row in front of more than 58,000 spectators gathered in the Twickenham stadium, in the suburbs of London.

The enthusiasm of the English public is representative of the lead that English women's rugby has taken over the rest of the international teams. Her Majesty's players collect distinctions: 2 world titles, 19 Six Nations Tournaments (a record), 12 victories in a row against the Blues, a first place in the world rankings... The only hitch in recent years, a World Cup final lost to New Zealand in November 2022. But since then, no team has managed to make the Roses fade.

“England are always very clinical,” explains Les Bleues hooker Agathe Sochat. Their players do simple things, but to perfection, playing on the opponent's mistakes. We talk a lot about their forwards but they also have a very strong three-quarter line. » The Irish can attest to this, having lost heavily (88-10) in their last match against the English.

“Money is the sinews of war”

If the magnitude of the score may have been - a little - surprising, the fate of the meeting was in little doubt, because the Red Roses squad is without equal, driven by high-level internal emulation. In 2017, the English Rugby Federation invested 3 million euros over three years in its women's championship. Its players have become semi-professional, with the exception of those defending the national white jersey, who devote themselves full-time to rugby.

In France, we are still very far from this situation. If 32 players from the French XV are under federal contract with the FFR and have a semi-professional status, the others must reconcile rugby and work. The Elite 1 championship – the first women’s division – remains for the moment at the amateur level. Finally, to find out, you have to be an oval ball fan, since the competition does not have a broadcaster.

“The championship is not very balanced,” notes Agathe Sochat. In the club, the girls work during the day and train in the evening. It’s complicated for social life. The media coverage of the French team should follow, because the English have taken a lead, that is undeniable. Money is the sinews of war. »

Across the Channel, the good form of English rugby attracts advertisers and creates a virtuous circle. Its championship, the Premier 15s, was sponsored in 2017 by a famous brand of crisps, replaced after the Covid pandemic by a large insurance group.

Although the competition is crushed by the Gloucester-Hartpury team this season (13 victories in as many matches), there are very high level players in several clubs, like the third row Marlie Packer, elected best player in the world in 2023, who plays for Saracens. Woman of the match against Ireland, full-back Ellie Kildunne defends the colors of Harlequins. This distribution is ideal for multiplying the shocks during the year and sharpening your crampons before international games.

The XV of France mixes youth and experience

But the English are not betting everything on a few headliners. Their pool allows them to easily adapt to injuries and retirements. “There are a lot of players who have great individual qualities in England, that’s what makes their collective strength,” summed up scrum-half Alexandra Chambon at a press conference on April 23. Does this match seem like a mission impossible for the Blues? “We spotted small opportunities in their game and we want to look for something by focusing on ourselves,” replied third row Emeline Gros alongside him.

Faced with the insolent assurance of the Red Roses, the XV of France will oppose a team mixing youth and experience. Seven Tricolores selected for the match (out of 23) are under 24 years old. At 19 years old, fly-half Lina Tuy will not be on the match sheet this Saturday, April 27, but keeps the memory of this poster in the lower categories. “The coaches made us understand that these duels were special matches,” she says.

And the history of opposition between the two nations matters little. “Most of the players weren’t there in 2018 when we beat them and didn’t experience all the defeats. There has been a lot of renewal,” underlines Agathe Sochat, who promises that the French team “will not have any complexes”, even if there “may have been a glass ceiling in the past”. “We want to confront this kind of selection,” says Lina Tuy. This is an opportunity for us. »

The opportunity, also, not to give even more confidence to a “perfidious Albion” which already does not lack it. A defeat for the Red Roses would cause chaos on the other side of the Channel, with the next World Cup taking place in 2025… in England.