Another dramatic autumn is in the books and every women’s side took huge steps forward.
The Women’s Six Nations is shaping up to be another mouth-watering Championship – not least after France claimed a first-ever win over the world champions New Zealand while England went three from three.
But on top of that, Wales claimed morale-boosting wins over both South Africa and Hong Kong while Italy downed both Scotland and South Africa.
Ireland and Scotland may not have secured autumn wins but they unearthed some real diamonds for the future and will enter 2019 with renewed optimism.
HISTORY FOR LES BLEUES
Never before had France’s women beaten New Zealand but this autumn’s back-to-back clashes shaped up as a fine opportunity to put that record to bed.
The Grand Slam champions of earlier this year produced a stirring effort in the first Test but found the Black Ferns just too good as the world champions secured a 14-0 victory.
But in front of an incredible crowd of 17,102 at the Stade des Alpes in Grenoble, the second Test went the way of Les Bleues for an historic win.
Caroline Drouin was the key with a try and some pivotal kicking from tee and, despite being without the injured and newly crowned world player of the year Jessy Tremouliere and making a number of changes from the first Test, they held on to secure a 30-27 victory.
The women’s game is on the rise in France and Romane Menager impressed in the back row alongside Gaelle Hermet while Pauline Bourdon and Drouin’s half-back pairing continues to go from strength to strength.
A second consecutive Grand Slam in next year’s Women’s Six Nations looks a real possibility – it is up to the rest to try and stop them.
CLEAN SWEEP FOR ENGLAND
Their likeliest rivals for the crown next year shape up to be England.
With 28 women about to be unveiled as full-time professionals in the XV-a-side game, the Red Roses can take great heart from their autumn showings.
They downed USA, Canada and Six Nations rivals Ireland in consecutive weeks to make it three from three.
Katy Daley-Mclean brought up a century of caps for her country while Sarah Hunter led in customary style from No.8.
But it was a number of newer faces that will have really pleased Simon Middleton – Carys Williams and Tatyana Heard caught the eye in midfield as did Hannah Botterman in the front row.
And England showed an impressive all-court game, with firepower out wide like Lydia Thompson’s hat-trick against Ireland and grunt up front such as hooker Lark Davies’ decisive double against Canada.
AZZURRI ALL GUNS BLAZING
Italy’s first autumn international in four years could not have gone much better as they downed Scotland 38-0 in Calvisano.
Outside centre Michela Sillari is the woman to watch out for in next year’s Women’s Six Nations after a hat-trick and fine display from the kicking tee yielded a 23-point haul.
The victory, and holding the Scots scoreless, gives them real confidence heading into the Championship that they can continue their upward trajectory.
And they backed that up at the end of the month with an impressive victory over South Africa, 35-10 in the first-ever meeting between the two sides.
In the second row Valentain Ruzza and Giordana Duca seem to be developing a fine understanding while Sofia Stefan’s finishing out wide was key against the Springboks.
WELSH OPTIMISM ABOUNDS
Wales look to be a team on the rise and their autumn reflects that growing confidence.
They downed South Africa 19-5, backed that up by running in ten tries in a 65-0 win over Hong Kong and then gave Canada a real scare in their third and final clash before falling to a 38-21 defeat.
Positives are not hard to find for Rowland Phillips’ side heading into next year and the Women’s Six Nations.
Not least the finishing Sioned Harries who crossed for a try in all three games for Wales and the place-kicking off Robyn Wilkins that improved throughout and could prove vital come the 2019 Championship.
The experienced Carys Phillips also caught the eye in the Welsh pack while also showing a nose for the try-line.
IRELAND GIVE YOUTH A CHANCE
On the face of it, Adam Griggs and Ireland might be disappointed with defeats to USA and England this autumn.
But both those opponents are ranked above them and they gave both of them a real test to prove they are a side on the up.
Their opening loss to the USA Eagles came at Donnybrook but the 19-10 scoreline reflected a close game throughout.
Laura Sheehan ran in a superb try on her international debut on the left wing while Beibhinn Parsons also looks a name for the future after a bright debut at the tender age of 16.
Ciara Griffin led by example in the back row with a number of turnovers against the Eagles and a week later against England, Ireland were right in the contest.
They came storming back just after half time and Lauren Delany and Eimear Considine proved that Ireland have real threats all across their back line before Lydia Thompson’s late treble saw England pull away.
SCOTS TAKE MUCH ENCOURAGEMENT
After opening their autumn with a 38-0 loss to their Six Nations rivals Italy – Shade Munro’s Scotland side needed a boost.
And they got it, albeit in narrow defeat to Canada in the final autumn international of the women’s season.
Lisa Thomson will be disappointed to miss a late penalty that would have secured them a 28-all draw but her performances across both autumn games were exemplary.
Jade Konkel returned from injury to bring customary power to the pack from No.8 – she also crossed for a try in the narrow defeat.
And head coach Munro knows his side are ready for what next year has to offer: “That has to be our standard going forward, it is one that perhaps got away, but the girls played very well.”