There’s a real adrenaline rush in the last week, but you have to find a balance between intensity and calm. You can’t get too excited on Monday or Tuesday, it’s just a waste of energy and you have to be smart with the way you train.
Training will also have an added advantage with the fierce competition for places in the England and France teams ahead of a final in which everyone will want to play.
If you are the player in possession of a jersey, you hope you have done enough in the previous rounds, but a good week of training is the best way for others to claim.
These are weeks to savor as players and I’m already looking forward to next weekend!
THE SET-PIECE WILL BE THE KEY BATTLE GROUND
I mentioned last week the improvements in conditioning and nutrition in women’s football in recent years, and the video analysis is no different.
When I started at club level, not all games were filmed – and if they were, it would often be wobbly footage of someone standing on the sidelines, accompanied by their chatter!
It’s not that the teams didn’t want to do it, they just didn’t have the resources to do it, but luckily the options available now are a world of their own.
Having faced each other regularly in recent years, most recently in a two-game series in the fall, England and France will be well aware of their mutual strengths.
The French are traditionally strong in the set piece, as they have shown against Ireland, and England will be looking to fight fire with fire – the battle between these two has long been to dominate these areas. .
England will target the blackout to try to slow the ball down and stop France from going wild, while I expect the Red Roses to use their kicking game to pin their opponents in the corners.
It is also important, from an English point of view, to focus on your own strengths rather than worrying too much about stopping France.
THE BLUES OUT FOR REVENGE
England have a recent advantage in this game – but it still makes you wonder when the tide will turn.
I have had times as a player where you are beaten by certain teams and it sets you on fire in the stomach, that feeling is bubbling inside you. You say to yourself “one day we will beat them and it will be memorable”. You feel like revenge is on the cards at some point – it could be Saturday.
We always had close matches against France in my time with the Red Roses, often matches that decided the championship.
I remember very well our first tour in France in 2014, when we lost in front of a large crowd. We got gutted but that fueled our fire and I think that’s one of the reasons we won the World Cup later that year – losing that game really got us excited.
France will be anxious to get rid of that chip this weekend – but England will not be in the mood to let the championship slip away. Either way, we’ll have a blast.
ELECTRIC FRANCE AND ITALY CAUSE THE 3 SPOILS
We saw two landmark games in the third set and I was both surprised and impressed with France’s margin of victory in Pool B against Ireland, especially since they had performed eight changes.
Strength at depth has been a key factor in this championship and it has shown itself again in Dublin. France’s depth allowed them to try new combinations and use their bench effectively – they looked as good as in the first round, if not better.
They know how to handle an 80 minute game and every aspect of their performance – strategy, tactics, technique – was world class.
Ireland will be disappointed with its discipline – its number of penalties was too high – and defensively, it sometimes struggled against a France team who broke tackles for fun.
But Adam Griggs’ side will only get better and their third / fourth place game against Italy on Saturday should be a cracker.
Italy were brilliant against Scotland. It has only been two years since they finished second and they continue to show that they are a good team with really talented players.
You can never write Manuela Furlan and she shone with a brilliantly taken hat-trick, while Beatrice Rigoni was all over the place.
Italy’s back line functioned the same as France – looking for offloads, breaking up tackles and creating chaos by applying constant pressure.
It was a really fun game to watch and Scotland dug into it. I saw signs of progress from Bryan Easson’s team, despite the results, and they came together in the absence of influential Jade Konkel.
Saturday’s game with Wales, which has also shown impressive spirit so far, will give both sides a chance to finish on a high.
TEAM OF THE WEEK
Another difficult XV to select this week, with lots of impressive performers, but let’s go …
15 Emilie Boulard (France)
Scored one, created another and continues to show why she keeps Jessy Trémouliere out of the squad. Boulard is really nice to watch and I would vote for his score as Try of Round 3!
14 Manuela Furlan (Italy)
Often plays at the back but this performance on the wing has shown his versatility. Furlan finished all three tries very well and set an example.
13 Carline Boujard (France)
I had to push her to 13 because there were too many good wingers this weekend! Boujard finds space where there is none and looked electric as he completed his two tries.
12 Beatrice Rigoni (Italy)
Won the player of the match award after a two-try display and has been central to Italy’s attack throughout. Rigoni showed excellent vision with his excellent pass for Furlan’s third down and was all over the place for the 80 minutes.
11 Cyrielle Banet (France)
His first try was brilliant, stealing the ball and dotting in the blink of an eye. No matter who France put in their last three, they are all performing well and Banet looked really good.
10 Caroline Drouin (France)
France changing their pair of running backs could have been a risk, but Drouin released the back line and gave them so many opportunities. Italy’s Veronica Madia and Stacey Flood, who left the bench for Ireland, also performed well.
9 Sara Barattin (Italy)
Italy needed their experienced players to step up and pull the strings and Barattin did it, keeping his team forward and taking good breaks.
1 Annaëlle Deshayes (France)
The whole French peloton was really solid and both props stood out. Deshayes has been strong in the fray throughout.
2 Lana Skeldon (Scotland)
It was hard. Agathe Sochat played well, Cliodhna Moloney scored a try but I went with Lana Skeldon because Scotland’s roster was solid and helped them fight.
3 Rose Bernadou (France)
Well carried, solid in the fray and Ireland struggled to put her down when she moved.
4 Emma Wassell (Ecosse)
Continued his constant championship. Wassell was a dominant presence in the roster and scored the try his performance deserved.
5 Safi N’Diaye (France)
On the bench in the first round, but she made her mark this time around. It takes a lot to stop N’Diaye from five meters and his try was typical of his strength.
6 Ilaria Arrighetti (Italy)
Well worn, offers very nice lines of support and has the ability to unload. Arrighetti reminds me of Jake Polledri, she’s so comfortable with the ball in hand and it looks like she could play anywhere in the back row.
7 Marjorie Mayans (France)
I know from playing against her what a Mayans defensive machine is and she showed that again in a Player of the Match display. She makes tackling very easy and brings the big players down. She played 6 on the weekend but is more than capable of covering 7.
8 Romane Ménager (France)
We talk in depth about the strength of France and here is a great example. Ménager stepped off the bench, scored one brilliant try and helped set up another. She had a huge impact in 32 minutes on the pitch.