England ready to be 'uncomfortable' in France as Red Roses target latest Six Nations Grand Slam

Alex Matthews admits England will thrive off a feisty atmosphere in France

Often statistics don’t always tell the full story of a match or competition, but in the case of this year’s Women’s Guinness Six Nations, they absolutely do.

Browsing the facts and figures on the tournament website, the Red Roses are unsurprisingly top of the pile in most categories.

That can be attributed to the ruthless attacking displays John Mitchell’s side have produced, with last weekend's 14-try rout of Ireland boosting those numbers once again.

But it may be the statistics that are more influenced by defensive efforts which will increase this weekend when England target a sixth consecutive Six Nations title against France.

In their four matches so far, England have made the least amount of tackles [542] but interestingly, their tackle accuracy is the best in the tournament at 91.55 per cent.

France’s success in attack is only second behind the rampant Red Roses so are the world’s number one side set for their most rigorous examination out in Bordeaux?

“I think we have just got another mental switch to flick,” England No.8 Alex Matthews said. “Our intent to get off the line is definitely something we need to push as a team and I am excited to see what we can do. We have been pretty comfortable so I am excited to be uncomfortable.”

Les Bleues will be out to halt England’s dominance - with the Red Roses eyeing a third successive Grand Slam - but considering how efficient and clinical Mitchell’s troops have been throughout the competition, that might be a tall order.

Nevertheless, England, of course, are not taking their French neighbours lightly despite having not lost in 28 Six Nations games.

Their last defeat did come against France in Grenoble back in 2018 but the cauldron of noise and hostile atmosphere created by the home support only adds to the challenge for the Red Roses.

“They will definitely show something we haven’t seen so far over the last few weeks so we have got to be ready for all options and give it our best,” Matthews said.

“We loved being booed. I ran out for my 50th cap with the whole crowd booing and I don’t think I would have wanted it any other way! We just get riled up and want to prove a point and almost silence them early. The girls definitely thrive off that as well.”

“What is amazing with the girls is they walk towards that environment which is quite impressive,” added forwards coach Louis Deacon. They relish it. They want that. They want that sort of a challenge.”

The levels the Red Roses have been able hit thus far have been remarkable with their dazzlingly showing at Twickenham last time out arguably the highlight.

Because of England's dominance, perhaps the competitiveness of the tournament has been put under the microscope again but internally, as Mitchell said last week, that desire to be better is all the Red Roses are concentrating on.

“To be honest, there is always things you can improve on,” Deacon said. “I actually got stuck into the forwards a little bit because we conceded a scrum penalty and then the penalty try [v Ireland].

“We always look quite deeply into our game and areas that we can improve. I think the girls have been outstanding. Week on week, we have just improved and got better so the process is always the same for us.

“It [that competitiveness] has been harnessed through our session design. I think we are blessed that we have huge depth, that we are able to go 15 on 15 all the time in training and it is so competitive. It is tougher than the game at times.

“It is through players competing with each other, chasing each other, chasing selection, all those sorts of things. We have been able to raise our level of training far beyond what we ever have done before and I always thought we trained particularly well but I think we have just took it to a completely different level.”

And raising the level has left England on the cusp of yet another Six Nations success.

Twelve months ago, France nearly spoiled the Red Roses' party at Twickenham after staging a second-half fightback but this England side are ruthless and cut-throat whilst also playing with smiles on their faces.

“We haven’t spoken about last year,” admitted Matthews. "I think everything is on us. We are a completely different team now. Completely different style of play. We have had such growth since then so we haven’t really dwelled on the past at all.

“I think everyone is playing with smiles on their faces. We have all got the freedom to play rugby at the end of the day. In XVs, you do get stuck in sort of such a structure whereas actually, it is heads-up rugby. If something is on, just play it. Play to your strengths. We are ‘as one’.

“Everyone is backing each other, everyone is off your shoulder. It is brilliant. When you come together and you’ve got that bond, it is amazing to do.

“Going into the weekend, we are just focused on us. We want to start strong and then have a big 23-player squad effort.”