The Women's Six Nations returns with three intriguing fixtures in prospect.
Scotland and Wales kick-off proceedings in round four at Scotstoun on Friday with a match-up between the bottom two, while, on Saturday, at the other end of the table, unbeaten sides England and Italy are set to go head-to-head in front of what could be a five-figure crowd at Sandy Park in Exeter. Three days before kick-off, more than 9,700 tickets had been sold – doubling the previous record – for the match between the competition's top two.
Later that day Ireland host France in Dublin with Les Bleues knowing they cannot afford to slip up if they are to have any hope of defending their title.
All three matches count towards the World Rugby Women's Rankings, as does the Rugby Europe Women's Championship semi-final between the Netherlands and Germany. The winner of that match will play Spain in the final after Las Leonas beat Russia 41-0 last month.
WOMEN’S SIX NATIONS
Scotland (12) v Wales (8)
Regular Scotland scrum-half Sarah Law is missing due to injury which means a call-up for Mhairi Grieves. The other changes all come in the pack, including a rejigged front row where Megan Kennedy moves to loose-head to accommodate the arrival of Mairi Forsyth into the starting line-up for the first time at tight-head. Sarah Bonar is restored to the second row, while Rachel Malcolm has recovered from the injury she sustained against Ireland in round two and takes her place on the blindside.
Converted back-row Lleucu George gets her first start as a back for the trip to Scotstoun in a side showing two changes. George will line up at inside-centre, her position for Cardiff Met University and Scarlets, while the other change sees Lauren Smyth come into the side at full-back.
- The two lowest scoring sides in the Championship go head-to-head with Scotland having managed just 22 points to Wales' 18 across the first three rounds
- Scotland are on a seven-match losing run
- Wales scored their first try of the Championship in losing 51-12 to England in round three
- One point is all that separated the teams in the last two fixtures with one win apiece
- Scotland won the last match on home soil, 15-14 in 2017, which was their first success in the fixture since 2005
- Scotland will overtake South Africa and move into 11th place in victory
- Despite gaining nearly one point for a convincing win, Wales cannot climb any higher than their current position of eighth
England (2) v Italy (7)
England field a hugely experienced line-up, bolstered by the return of test centurion and captain Sarah Hunter and fellow Women's Rugby World Cup 2014 winner Emily Scarratt. Hunter, World Rugby's Women's Player of the Year in 2016, comes back into the starting XV to win her 112th cap, while Scarratt takes her place at outside-centre after missing the win over Wales through injury. After being selected as a replacement against Wales, Worcester's Lark Davies will start at hooker in an otherwise unchanged front row. The rest of the changes come in the backs, where Leanne Riley and Kelly Smith both make their third starts this year at scrum-half and on the left wing respectively. In a positional change, Women's Six Nations top try-scorer Jess Breach moves to the right wing. England's starting XV boasts 555 caps between them with the bench accounting for another 256. Vicky Fleetwood is set to make her first appearance of 2019 and her 68th in total after being named among the replacements.
Italy have made three changes from their win over Ireland, including one positional. In the pack, Valentina Ruzza replaces Valeria Fedrighi as Giordana Duca's partner in the second row, while there are two changes to the backline with Beatrice Rigoni moving from inside-centre to fly-half and Jessica Busato taking her place in the number 12 jersey.
- England have never lost to Italy in 17 previous meetings
- The Red Roses' average winning margin across that time is 42 points
- Second-placed Italy are on course for their best finish at this level. The only other time they have finished in the top half of the table was in 2005 when they ranked third
- England have the top try scorer and top points scorer in Jess Breach (five tries) and Katy Daley-Mclean (27 points) in the 2019 Championship.
- Italy have conceded the fewest tries (five) in the Championship
- England cannot improve their rating or ranking due to the difference between the nations
- Italy will only move up the rankings, at the expense of Australia, if they win by more than 15 points
Ireland (9) v France (3)
France are boosted by the return to fitness of Jessy Trémoulière who lines up at full-back in a Les Bleues side showing six changes to the one that defeated Scotland in round three. Trémoulière, voted World Rugby Women's Player of the Year in 2018 for her performances in the Championship where she helped France to the Grand Slam, has not featured since injuring her knee in November. As well as Trémoulière, the other changes to the backline are Caroline Boujard on the wing, Yolaine Yengo at outside-centre and Yanna Rivoalen at scrum-half. Pauline Bourdon, France's leading try and point-scorer in the Championship, shifts out one place to fly-half. In the pack, Céline Ferer starts in the second row in place of Safi N’Diaye while Lise Arricastre is back at loose-head prop.
- Ireland beat France 13-10 on Les Bleues' last visit to Donnybrook in February 2017
- France have won twice since then: 24-0 at home in the 2018 Six Nations and 21-5 at Women's Rugby World Cup 2017
- Traditionally this match-up is a low-scoring affair with neither team scoring more than 25 points in the last 13 meetings
- Ireland will move above Wales and into eighth place in victory
- France cannot improve their rating or position
RUGBY EUROPE WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP
Netherlands (14) v Germany (19)
Only a third of the German team that beat Belgium 24-5 in Brussels at the start of the month retain their places for the trip to Amsterdam. The Monica Yee and Nora Baltruweit second-row partnership remains intact, while Elisa Trick gets another run out at number eight. In the backs, Franziska Holpp shifts from scrum-half to fly-half and Lisa Bohrmann stays at inside-centre.
- The Netherlands are playing their first women's test in just over a year having lost 40-7 to Spain in Brussels on 3 March, 2018
- This will be their first test on home soil since they lost 33-10 to Scotland in November 2011
- The Netherlands have won 15 and lost only one of their previous 16 matches. Germany's solitary success came in March 2002 by a score of 12-10
- The Netherlands will gain nearly a third of a point for a large win but that wouldn’t be enough to lift them any higher than their current position of 14th.
- A German victory will see them overtake Kazakhstan in the rankings and move up to 18th.
- Germany will be the higher-ranked of the two teams if they win by more than 15 points.
The World Rugby Women's Rankings update every Monday at 12:00 noon GMT .