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Women's Six Nations: England's Red Roses seek Grand Slam history but ill-discipline a looming issue

England's Red Roses face France on Saturday in Bordeaux in Women's Six Nations Grand Slam-decider (4.45pm kick-off); Meetings between Red Roses and France invariably have been tight, tough and competitive; England have been shown two red cards and two yellows in four fixtures in 2024

Aldcroft, Hunt

New Zealand's Black Ferns may be the world champions, but in the northern hemisphere, there is no fixture that comes close to England vs France in women's rugby. 

In saying that, the Red Roses have been utterly dominant of recent times and travel to the Stade Chaban-Delmas on Saturday seeking a third Grand Slam in succession - nobody has ever won more than three clean-sweeps in a row - and sixth consecutive title.

Yet, while England routinely beat their Celtic neighbours and Italy by scores in excess of 30 or 40 points (sometimes significantly more), Tests vs France are always that bit more competitive.

And when the games are in France, even more so.

Lou Meadows, Red Roses, John Mitchell
Image: Red Roses attack coach Lou Meadows and head coach John Mitchell are seeking a Grand Slam in the first year working together with the team

Indeed, last year's history-making Grand Slam-decider between the sides - a first ever standalone Red Roses Test at Twickenham in front of a world record 58,498 crowd - saw France push England all the way in a 38-33 Red Roses win.

In their World Cup pool meeting in 2022, France were arguably the better side as England edged to a 13-7 win Auckland, while the 2022 Six Nations meeting saw England come from behind to win 24-12 in Bayonne.

In 2021, England beat France twice by extremely narrow margins: 17-15 in Lille when, again, France had the better of a lot the game, which was controversially abandoned with 18 minutes left due to a floodlight failure, and 10-6 at Twickenham in the Six Nations as Emily Scarratt struck a final-minute insurance penalty.

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LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 29: France's Gaelle Hermet in action during the TikTok Women's Six Nations match between England and France at Twickenham Stadium on April 29, 2023 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Bob Bradford - CameraSport via Getty Images)
Image: Red Roses vs France clashes are invariably tight and massively competitive Tests

In 2020 and 2019, England also won contests by two points: Scarratt kicking a penalty to win 25-23 with the last kick at Twickenham, and Lydia Thompson scoring in the final minute to win 17-15 at Sandy Park.

Invariably, contests are close and decide titles. Indeed, France's last Six Nations trophy lift in 2018 saw them beat England with a final-minute try themselves in Grenoble.

"I'm excited, it's Test match rugby and that's what we train hard for. What we want is that competition and that challenge," Red Roses No 8 Alex Matthews said.

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EDITORS NOTE: EMBARGOED UNTIL 0001 FRIDAY MARCH 8, 2024 File photo dated 24-04-2022 of England's Alex Matthews. World Cup winner Alex Matthews has been inspired by many people in her life - but no-one more so than the brother she never met. Andrew Matthews died at the age of 16 in 1993, three weeks before Alex was born. Issue date: Friday March 8, 2024.
Image: Red Roses No 8 Alex Matthews says they expect France to 'bring another level'

"France always show up against us and bring another level. They have been growing throughout the campaign, but they will definitely show up and I think show something that we haven't seen so far over the last few weeks.

"We have to be ready for all options and give it our best."

Mitchell wants Red Roses playing on the edge, despite red cards

In November 2022, the Red Roses faced New Zealand at Eden Park in the World Cup final as massive favourites. Wing Thompson was sent off in the 18th minute for a high tackle, and it cost England badly as they fell to a 34-31 defeat.

Despite dominating the world game ahead of the tournament, the Red Roses fell at the final hurdle, with the big picture being they haven't won a World Cup since 2014.

This year, the Red Roses have been shown two red cards in four matches, with No 8 Sarah Beckett dismissed after 11 minutes in the opener against Italy for a dangerous clear-out and hooker Amy Cokayne sent off after two yellow cards for dangerous tackles against Scotland on 55 minutes.

Despite this, Mitchell has instructed his England team to continue playing on the edge irrespective of the disciplinary issues that have marred their campaign so far.

John Mitchell
Image: Mitchell wants England to keep 'playing on the edge' despite two red cards in four Six Nations Tests

In both Tests, England crushed their opponents despite being reduced to 14 players, while scrum-half Lucy Packer was also sin-binned in victory against Ireland, giving away a penalty try for a maul collapse. Centre Helena Rowland was sin-binned too against Italy, reducing England to 13 players for a time in Parma.

While Mitchell wants technique to be refined where needed, he views his team's physicality as an important weapon.

"I want us to continue to play on the edge, but I also want us to be aware around how we need to change our behaviour," the Red Roses head coach said.

Image: Hooker Amy Cokayne was red carded in Round 3 vs Scotland after two yellows for dangerous tackles

"In Amy's incident, she needs to get her head under the ball. Obviously that's something you put the ownership on the individual to change.

"There's some good things we've learned from it, but we're certainly not going to go away from being on the edge. It's what drives us. It's what the game's all about and we want to turn defence into points."

Sarah Beckett
Image: No 8 Sarah Beckett was red carded in Round 1 vs Italy for a dangerous clearout

It hasn't proven costly against teams beaten 48-0, 46-10, 46-0 and 88-10 this year, but an early red card away to France would change the game, as it did in that World Cup final.

England need to be wary of their discipline to avoid previous costly mistakes on the biggest occasions.

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