Maggie Alphonsi knows a thing or two about capturing a Women’s Six Nations title and the World Cup winner is predicting a French win against England in Grenoble today.
The FFR are expecting more than 16,500 spectators in Grenoble for what has been billed as a ‘winner takes all’ clash with old enemy England.
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Both England and France go into the clash with a 100 percent record in this season’s competition, with Simon Middleton’s side narrowly topping the table on points difference as they look to retain the title they claimed last season.
Alphonsi played in two Rugby World Cups and in 2012 shared in a record seven successive Women’s Six Nations titles and six Grand Slams in seven years with England.
She has been used to dominating with the Red Rose at international level but as Middleton’s side prepare for Le Crunch in Grenoble – Alphonsi admits the gap in class to the rest has narrowed for England.
“I think it will be a really close one,” said Alphonsi. “I don’t normally go against England whatsoever but I do feel the home advantage is going to help France.
“But if England can start well and put France under pressure in the set-piece, and the lineout, and then be aggressive at the breakdown, then England could win.
“But they have to start well and maintain their discipline.
“The French factor in terms of home advantage will swing in their favour. If the French get their forwards rolling, and they’ve got a very good fly-half who likes to kick to the back three, if they get in the groove, I think they will be hard to stop.
“In terms of score, I think it will be within a try. Just purely based on that home factor, I’m going to go France will win it but I don’t tend to go against my own nation.”
Alphonsi has warned England to expect a French backlash in Grenoble, citing the need to start well and silence a vocal and passionate crowd.
The former Saracens flanker has witnessed first-hand the atmosphere and momentum the French can create on home soil.
And with just one fixture to play after the clash in Grenoble – England host Ireland in Coventry and France travel to Colwyn Bay to face Wales in round five – Alphonsi has highlighted how crucial a win will be.
“The last time I played for England and we played our Six Nations game out in France was in 2014 before the Rugby World Cup,” added Alphonsi.
“I just remember losing that game and the crowd was immense. It was an amazing atmosphere and one that was deserved for the occasion. We let the crowd and the pressure get to us.
“We lost, we made errors and mistakes. We didn’t execute properly and you just felt the French did. Every time they did something well the crowd would get behind them. I love playing in France but I also know the pressure it puts you under.
“I’m incredibly excited for the France versus England game. What is exciting is that is has effectively become the title decider in terms of both teams having not lost a game yet this year.
“We should be expecting over 15,000 for the game so I am absolutely over the moon about that and the interest it is going to have.
“I definitely think Simon Middleton and the other coaches would have had this game lined up in their schedule and had been preparing for this game.
“The last three games have been a build-up. England have grown throughout the tournament but they haven’t put on a complete performance yet. Against France they must do that because one error and the French are good at capitalising on that.”
If you thought England’s defensive record in this season’s competition was impressive – they have conceded just 15 points and two tries – France are on a different planet altogether.
The French have conceded just three points in three games – and Alphonsi has warned England they will need to be at their best if they are to rack up scores in Grenoble.
“Like England, France have also had three very good games,” said Alphonsi. “They have conceded so few points, it’s very impressive.
“Their last game against Italy was probably some of their best rugby. I think France have showed strength throughout the tournament.
“Similar to England they’ve had some errors but what we’ve seen from them is that at home they are incredibly dominant. They haven’t been perfect.
“Their set-piece, and I refer to their lineout, that hasn’t been particularly strong. The breakdown as well has been a bit inconsistent and teams like Scotland and Ireland did put them under pressure. England would have seen that and thought that is an area they can target.”