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Why France are the team to beat at Six Nations U20 Women's Summer Series

France Women U20 pictured singing the national anthem ahead of their match against England at Stade Jean Mermoz in Rouen on April 20th 2024. (Photo: France Rugby / Jérémy Babinet)

France will start as favourites when the inaugural U20 Women’s Summer Series, organised by Six Nations Rugby, gets underway in Parma on Thursday.

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Over the span of 10 days from July 4th to the 14th, each of the competing nations – France, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Italy – will play three matches, marking a significant debut and a true test for these young teams.

Previously, the Six Nations teams have participated in U18 festivals in 2022 and 2023, where France achieved success.

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In 2022, France emerged victorious in the first edition of the U18 Women’s Six Nations Festival in Edinburgh, securing three wins over Ireland and England. The following year, the same team completed a Grand Slam by winning all five of their matches in Berkshire, England.

Those tournaments were considered historic for the age group at the time and the Women’s Summer Series is the logical next step.

As Claire Cruikshank, coach of the Scotland side who will play France next Tuesday, points out, the “U20s bracket is the next step for the women’s game. It’s always something that’s been missing”.

European dominance

France’s results at U18 level established them as the team to beat in Europe, and the nature of their U20 victory against England in Rouen in April only solidified that reputation.

England’s young stars found themselves 22-0 down at half-time in Normandy and France kept their foot on the gas – scoring eight tries in the second half (including two from Kelly Arbey to complete her hat-trick) – to run out 74-0 winners.

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That victory marked their 20th win in the last 21 matches, while England’s last victory over France at this level dates back to 2011.

“We won by a large margin, but it was a very tough, hard-fought game with a lot of contact. We’re up against some tough opposition, and they’re going to come out of the tournament really fired up,” said captain Zoé Jean.

“To lose that badly is a blow to the ego, and we’ll have to be very careful about that.”

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The upcoming Crunch will be the teams’ third and final match of the Summer Series on July 14th. Prior to that, the French will play Wales on Thursday and Scotland five days later.

“We finish with England, which is the most eagerly awaited match and perhaps the toughest. I’m keen to see how we stick together when the going gets tough, because not everything is going to be perfect,” Jean said.

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Les Bleuettes coach Caroline Suné added: “I hope the level of play will lead us to go further, perhaps even to a Six Nations Championship, which could happen sooner rather than later, and a World Cup, just like the men’s teams.

“For me, it’s crucial. The quality of the game that is produced, the enthusiasm, can have significant consequences.”

In Italy, Les Bleuettes will have several players available who have already earned caps for the senior national team, such as backs Arbey and Suliana Sivi, along with sevens players Lilou Graciet and Cléo Hagel.

And this powerful group has set an ambitious goal: to continue their dominance over the other European nations, a position they have built in recent years.

“I compare the Summer Series to what we experienced at U18 level. We really wanted to win and prove that France was a cut above the rest,” Jean said.

“It was the first, and in our minds, we’ll always be the first. We won. And this will be the first time too.”

Jean plays No.8 for Stade Toulousain, a club synonymous with French and European rugby supremacy. Could that prove a sign?

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finn 6 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

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