‘Different’ England can ‘dial up’ for Grand Slam

England captain Marlie Packer explains how her side will approach their game against France.

Alastair Telfer
BBC Sport journalist

26 April 2024

Women’s Six Nations: France v England

Venue: Stade Chaban-Delmas, Bordeaux Date: Saturday, 27 April Kick-off: 16:45 BST

Coverage: Watch live on BBC One, BBC iPlayer and online; live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra; text commentary, highlights and report on BBC Sport website and app.

A match away against France for a Grand Slam.

Saturday in Bordeaux was the game John Mitchell earmarked when he took over as England head coach, even if the New Zealander does not admit it.

The challenge does not get tougher to claim his first Women’s Six Nations and England’s sixth successive title.

Winning is non-negotiable when you are in charge of the Red Roses – a third consecutive Grand Slam is expected.

Last year the stakes were also high when England welcomed France to Twickenham, in front of the largest women’s rugby crowd in history, in Simon Middleton’s final game in charge.

They won the game 38-33 after nearly blowing a 33-point half-time lead, a warning that the French, no matter the form book, are always a threat.

“That was a very different Red Roses team,” England captain Marlie Packer told BBC’s Rugby Union Weekly.

“If we are looking at the old team then it could be a really tough battle, but I think actually we’ve grown so much over this Six Nations.

“Things have come together and it is just making sure that stays.”

Women’s Six Nations: England defeat France to seal 2023 Grand Slam

‘We have the ability to dial it up again’

Across the course of the campaign Mitchell has seen his side grow into his demands to play with a higher tempo in attack.

An error-ridden first half against Italy in his side’s opening game signalled time might be required for this style to be implemented, but by round four everything clicked as Mitchell’s side ran in 14 tries against Ireland in front of 48,778 at Twickenham.

Stepping up on the biggest occasions is a personality trait that seeps through the veins of this England team in the Six Nations.

That victory made it 28 wins in a row in the championship since their last defeat by France in 2018 – a record run for both the men’s and women’s tournaments.

The Red Roses raise their game when it matters most and with a large crowd of about 28,000 expected in Bordeaux, that extra level of intensity is needed more than ever.

“We’ve got better as the tournament has progressed and who said there are limits on the style that we produced last weekend?” Mitchell said.

“We have the ability to dial it up again. It certainly won’t be stopping. It will continue to evolve.”

The attack has been helped by the introduction of experienced coach Brian Ashton, with the former England men’s coach playing a “small role” within “coaching development” to help young coaches Sarah Hunter and Lou Meadows.

“Brian doesn’t always go through the coaches for advice, he can tell the players he wants to tell,” Packer added.

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Big Test matches come down to small margins. One score has separated the sides in three of their last four Six Nations meetings.

“We want that mindset of being ruthless with the foot on the throat,” flanker Packer added.

“If we come off it at any time they can turn on that French flair. We are not going to let them play and if we starve them of the ball they can’t play.”

With a perfect four bonus-point wins, 208 points scored in attack and only 20 conceded, England top the charts for all the match-winning stats required to go in as favourites.

However, red cards against Italy and Scotland and at least one sin-bin in every game has yet to be punished by the nations they have faced.

France have received half the amount of cards of England in the championship and have the attacking ability to punish another error in tackle technique.

But playing on the edge and getting the ball back as quickly as possible still remains the top priority for Mitchell.

It is a calculated risk he is willing to take, even with the margins so fine.

“We will continue playing on the edge, I don’t really care what people say about the discipline,” Mitchell told Rugby Union Weekly.

“Ultimately the game for us is around making sure we are physical and stop teams’ momentum.”

What happens if it is a draw?

Despite both sides winning all their games, France enter the Grand Slam decider one point behind England after they failed to take a bonus point in their narrow win over Scotland.

With England’s points difference also 114 better than their opponents, it means if a draw occurred the Red Roses would secure the title.

What is on the line?

England can extend their winning record to 29 games in the Women’s Six Nations.

The Red Roses can secure their sixth Six Nations titles in a row and third consecutive Grand Slam.

Victory would also mean 13 wins out of England’s last 13 games against France in all competitions.

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Line-ups

France: Boulard; Grisez, Konde, Vernier, M Menager; Queyroi, Bourdon Sansus; Deshaye, Sochat, Khalfaoui, Feleu (capt), Fall, Escudero, Hermet, R Menager.

Replacements: Riffonneau, Mwayembe, Joyeux, Feleu, Gros, Chambon, Ciofani, Jacquet.

England: Kildunne; Dow, Jones, Heard, Breach; Aitchison, Hunt; Botterman, Cokayne, Muir, Aldcroft, Talling, Kabeya, M Packer (capt), Matthews.

Replacements: Powell, Carson, Clifford, Ward, Feaunati, L Packer, Scarratt, Gregson.

Referee: Maggie Cogger-Orr (NZ)

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