England’s Grand Slam dream may be over but captain Sarah Hunter tells Shay Waterworth that she is hoping for a win against Ireland in their final game of the Women’s Six Nations
Sarah Hunter targets strong finish to Women’s Six Nations
England Women’s Six Nations Grand Slam hopes crumbled in the 78th minute against France last weekend. The Red Roses were on course to win consecutive Grand Slam titles but ended up losing the match 18-17 in front of a record crowd in Grenoble.
This means that France are now the only side remaining with a chance of winning a Slam, with England unlikely to retain the championship.
England play Ireland at Wasps’ Ricoh Arena in Coventry on Friday night, kicking off half an hour before France take on Wales in Colwyn Bay. Providing the Red Roses can overturn Ireland, a defeat for les Bleus could hand England the championship, but captain Sarah Hunter insists her side aren’t worrying about the France result.
“Mathematically we can still win the competition, but all we can do is win,” says Hunter. “We’re in a good place now, we discussed the disappointment of last weekend and we’re now ready to bounce back.
“Last weekend was an excellent Test match, it’s just unfortunate that we were on the losing side. I think we had lots of opportunities to take control of the match earlier on but we failed to take them.
“Looking back I think our breakdown work was quite loose, which let them disrupt our play, and we need to increase our performance by 1% in different areas for Ireland.”
England head coach Simon Middleton has made three changes to his back-line, with Kelly Smith coming onto the wing, Lagi Tuima in at outside-centre and Caity Mattinson at scrum-half.
Ireland are third in the table after losing at home to Scotland in the last round. They have made three changes to their starting line-up, with Louise Galvin starting on the wing, Nicole Cronin at scrum-half and Ashleigh Baxter at blindside.
Hunter adds: “The Irish are a Celtic nation who play with a lot of pride and passion. They’ve been in a period of transition but they have Niamh Briggs at fly-half who pulls their strings and their pack have a lot of power to put them on the front foot.”
Twickenham Stoop has been the home of the Red Roses in recent seasons, so Coventry is a new venue for the women, who play their match before England U20 take on their Irish counterparts.
Hunter says: “The Stoop is a fantastic venue to play at but it’s also important to keep growing the game. Coventry is a big rugby hub for England so it’s exciting to go there and I’ve heard there are already 8,000 tickets sold so it should be a great atmosphere on Friday night.”
Although England have failed to retain their Grand Slam title from last season, Hunter remains positive about the progress made. “We set out to win the Six Nations. We knew it would be a step up from the autumn Internationals and we have made some positive strides, but now all we can do is try to finish strong and leave it up to France.”
Grand Slam decider
France have made two changes with Céline Ferer and Lise Arricastre coming into the pack to try to seal their fourth Grand Slam in history against a wobbling Welsh team.
Wales are unchanged for the final round in Colwyn Bay, with prop Caryl Thomas set to earn her 50th cap. The Welsh are currently joint bottom with Italy and Scotland after last week’s disappointing defeat at home to the Italians and with a rampant French side chasing glory, it could be a bleak Friday evening for Wales.
Playing for pride
Italy won their first game of this year’s competition last weekend against Wales at the Principality Stadium and have a good chance of making it two in a row at home to Scotland.
However, the Scottish are also coming into the final round on the back of a shock away win over Ireland, so although this is a potential last-place play-off, it could be a fierce conclusion to the tournament on Sunday.
Women’s Six Nations Round Five Fixtures
Friday 16 March England v Ireland, 5:30pm, Ricoh Arena, Live on Sky Sports + RTE
Friday 16 March Wales v France, 6pm, Parc Eirias, Live on S4C
Sunday 18 March Italy v Scotland, 2pm, Stadio Plebiscito
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