Super Saturday comes a day early in the Women’s Six Nations Championship as Ireland and England are set to collide in a winner-takes-all Grand Slam decider on ‘Fabulous Friday’.
After four rounds, the Red Roses and Irish remain the only two teams with 100 percent records. But one of those will go in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day in the fifth and final round.
England currently top the table on 19 points with Ireland second on 18. France are third on 11, Wales fourth on six, Scotland fifth on five and Italy bottom with zero points.
However there is still much to play for as Scotland and Italy fight it out to avoid the Wooden Spoon, while France and Wales battle to end the tournament on a high.
This weekend marks the final chapter and conclusion of an enralling 2017 Women’s Six Nations Championship, and here is a glimpse of what is sure to be a grandstand finish…
Scotland Women v Italy Women
Scotland suffered a demoralising 64-0 thumping by England last weekend, with the Red Roses crossing 12 times in a one-sided contest at The Stoop in Twickenham.
Despite this heavy defeat, the Scots are enjoying their best Six Nations tournament in seven years having already claimed their first Championship points since 2010 and win after 36 matches.
Victory over Italy at home in their final game would ensure they avoid a seventh consecutive Wooden Spoon and could even finish as high as fourth if France beat Wales on Saturday.
Italy, however, could still spoil the Scottish party by leapfrogging them on points difference if they achieve a four-try bonus win and deny Scotland anything.
Even with no points, the Azzurre go into their last match knowing their fate is very much in their own hands and they can still avoid the Wooden Spoon.
The Italians have produced strong first halves against Wales (8-10) and Ireland (3-3) then outscored both England (10-5) and France (5-3) after the intervals.
A complete 80-minute performance though has eluded them thus far in the Championship but, if they achieve it at the fifth attempt, Italy could yet halt Scotland’s progress.
Prediction: Scotland by 5
Scotland: 15 Chloe Rollie, 14 Megan Gaffney, 13 Lisa Thomson, 12 Lisa Martin (c), 11 Rhona Lloyd, 10 Helen Nelson, 9 Sarah Law, 8 Jade Konkel, 7 Louise McMillan, 6 Jemma Forsyth, 5 Deborah McCormack, 4 Emma Wassell, 3 Katie Dougan, 2 Lana Skeldon, 1 Tracy Balmer
Replacements: 16 Rachel Malcolm, 17 Heather Lockhart, 18 Lindsey Smith, 19 Sarah Bonar, 20 Lyndsay O’Donnell, 21 Jenny Maxwell, 22 Lauren Harris, 23 Eilidh Sinclair
Italy: 15 Manuela Furlan, 14 Michela Sillari, 13 Maria Grazia Cioffi, 12 Sofia Stefan, 11 Maria Magatti, 10 Beatrice Rigoni, 9 Sara Barattin (c), 8 Elisa Giordano, 7 Lucia Cammarano, 6 Ilaria Arrighetti, 5 Alice Trevisan, 4 Isabellla Locatelli, 3 Marta Ferrrari, 2 Melissa Bettoni, 1 Elisa Cucchiella
Replacements: 16 Lucia Gai, 17 Gaia Giacomoli, 18 Michela Este, 19 Elisa Pillotti, 20 Valeria Fedrighi, 21 Veronica Madia, 22 Elisa Bonaldo, 23 Paola Zangirolami
Date: Friday, March 17
Venue: Broadwood Stadium
Kick-off: 18:20 GMT
Referee: Ian Tempest (England)
Assistant Referees: Helen O’Reilly (Ireland), Hollie Davidson (Scotland)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)
Ireland Women v England Women
Ireland held off the challenge of an emotionally-charged Wales to win 12-7 at Cardiff Arms Park and set up a title decider with England in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day.
Good fortune has favored the Irish in this Championship so far with last-minute four-try bonus point successes over Scotland and Italy, plus nail-biting finishes against France and Wales seeing them scrape through.
However, Tom Tierney’s charges are finding ways to consistently grind out victories; putting them in good stead for Friday and as hosts for the Women’s Rugby World Cup this summer.
They will face their biggest challenge yet though, in the form of a rampant England team which has scored 182 points and 31 tries in their four matches to date.
English winger Kay Wilson became the first Women’s Six Nations player to score seven tries in a match as the Red Roses brushed aside Scotland 64-0 in their previous game.
That romp has set the reigning World Champions up to contest for their first Six Nations’ crown and Grand Slam since 2012.
As England look to end a five-year title drought, Ireland are targeting a third Championship in five seasons. Something has to give…
Prediction: England by 12
Ireland: 15 Mairead Coyne, 14 Kim Flood, 13 Jenny Murphy, 12 Claire McLaughlin, 11 Eimear Considine, 10 Nora Stapleton, 9 Mary Healy, 8 Paula Fitzpatrick (c), 7 Claire Molloy, 6 Ciara Griffin, 5 Marie Louise Reilly, 4 Sophie Spence, 3 Ailis Egan, 2 Leah Lyons, 1 Lindsay Peat
Replacements: 16 Ciara O’Connor, 17 Ilse van Staden, 18 Ruth O’Reilly, 19 Ciara Cooney, 20 Nichola Fryday, 21 Larissa Muldoon, 22 Nikki Caughey, 23 Louise Galvin
England: 15 Danielle Waterman, 14 Amy Wilson Hardy, 13 Emily Scarratt, 12 Amber Reed, 11 Kay Wilson, 10 Emily Scott, 9 La Toya Mason, 8 Sarah Hunter (c), 7 Marlie Packer, 6 Alex Matthews, 5 Harriet Millar-Mills, 4 Tamara Taylor, 3 Justine Lucas, 2 Amy Cokayne, 1 Rochelle Clark
Replacements: 16 Vicky Fleetwood, 17 Vickii Cornborough, 18 Laura Keates, 19 Poppy Cleall, 20 Izzy Noel-Smith, 21 Bianca Blackburn, 22 Rachael Burford, 23 Lydia Thompson
Date: Friday, March 17
Kick-off: 20:00 GMT
Referee: Alhambra Nievas (Spain)
Assistant Referees: Sean Gallagher (Ireland), Paul Haycock (Ireland)
TMO: Neil Patterson (Scotland)
France Women v Wales Women
Holders France are set to lose their Six Nations’ crown no matter what happens in Dublin on Friday evening and will have to be content with a third place finish.
Les Bleus earned a four-try bonus 28-5 victory in Italy last weekend, but wins for England and Ireland mean they cannot overhaul either of the top two in round five.
The French will instead look to end their campaign on a high with a home triumph over Wales as they shift their focus to this summer’s Women’s Rugby World Cup.
Wales too are also targeting a strong finish to the Championship as they aim to end a run of three straight defeats.
Failure to do so would allow Scotland to overtake them in fourth with victory against Italy and consign the Welsh to a fifth-place finish for the third time in four Six Nations.
Rowland Phillips’ team threw everything at Ireland in round four, but came up short with only a losing bonus as consolation for their efforts.
An away success in France would bring some much-needed joy following a record home loss to England, a shock defeat in Scotland and the tragic loss of player Elli Norkett.
Prediction: France by 15
France: 15 Jessy Tremouliere, 14 Chloé Pelle, 13 Caroline Ladagnous, 12 Elodie Poublan, 11 Caroline Boujard, 10 Caroline Drouin, 9 Jade Le Pesq, 8 Safi N’Diaye, 7 Romane Menager, 6 Marjorie Mayans, 5 Audrey Forlani, 4 Celine Ferer, 3 Julie Duval, 2 Gaelle Mignot (c), 1 Lise Arricastre
Replacements: 16 Wendy Divoux, 17 Arkya Aït Labib, 18 Lenaig Corson, 19 Gaëlle Hermet, 20 Yanna Rivoalen, 21 Audrey Abadie, 22 Carla Neisen, 23 Patricia Carricaburu
Wales: 15 Elinor Snowsill, 14 Jasmine Joyce, 13 Gemma Rowland, 12 Rebecca de Filippo, 11 Adi Taviner, 10 Robyn Wilkins, 9 Sian Moore, 8 Shona Powell-Hughes, 7 Rachel Taylor, 6 Sioned Harries, 5 Melissa Clay, 4 Rebecca Rowe, 3 Amy Evans, 2 Carys Phillips (c), 1 Caryl Thomas
Replacements: 16 Lowri Harries, 17 Cerys Hale, 18 Catrin Edwards, 19 Siwan Lillicrap, 20 Alisha Butchers, 21 Keira Bevan, 22 Jodie Evans, 23 Jessica Kavanagh-Williams
Date: Saturday, March 18
Venue: Stade Amedee Domenech, Brive
Kick-off: 21:00pm (20:00pm GMT)
Referee: Joy Neville (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Marie Lematte (France), TBC
TMO: Sean Davey (England)
by Aron Hegarty