Emily Scarratt is confident the gap between England and France and the rest of the Women’s Six Nations will be narrowed over time.
The tournament’s heavyweights will collide at Twickenham on Saturday week in front of a crowd of over 50,000, setting a new world attendance record for the women’s game.
While those great rivals will slug it out in what is almost certain to be a Grand Slam decider, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Italy continue to struggle having only recently introduced professional contracts.
The gulf in class has prompted Red Roses head coach Simon Middleton to state that the Six Nations cannot “continue in the guise it is”, but Scarratt believes that over time it will become more competitive.
“It’s no secret that England and France are ahead in terms of how long we’ve been professional and the infrastructure and commercial opportunities that we have,” Red Roses centre Scarratt told the PA news agency.
“But what we’ve seen from the others is that they’ve just started that journey. It takes time for players to adjust to life as a full-time professional and learn how to get the most out of that.
“I understand what Simon is saying and as a rugby player I want to play in really competitive games all the time where you’re pitting yourself against the very, very best.
“We’ll definitely see that in the France game, but unfortunately we won’t see it against some of the others because of that gap that there is.
“I believe that over the coming years it will only become more competitive. I can’t put a timeframe on that but it will definitely happen.
“When you have a gap like this, the strides that can be made quickly can be big. It’s that top bit at the end where the margins become far smaller.”
France were the last northern hemisphere side to beat England in 2018 but their 15 successive defeats in the fixture since masks a hard-fought rivalry seen most recently in their clash during the group phase of last autumn’s World Cup.
The Red Roses eventually prevailed 13-7 against a side that lost to winners New Zealand by a point in the semi-final and they are dangerous opponents.
“All the games we’ve had against them over the last five or so years have been so close – one point here or there, a couple of scores, never a runaway win,” said Scarratt, who is recovering from groin and ankle injuries.
“Inevitably there’s a big rivalry between England and New Zealand because of our World Cup history, but the amount of times we play France makes them a huge rival.
“We’ve been open that we want to play with more width and be more expansive. France will be really tough and will test us so it will be interesting to see if we can keep our width and continue to test the boundaries by playing more.
“But it could also be a Grand Slam decider so it might just be a case of needing to win the game.”
It will be the first time that a standalone women’s match will be played at Twickenham and the occasion will give an indication of whether England’s ambition of selling out the final of the 2025 Women’s World Cup at the same venue can be achieved.
“We’ve done really good things domestically for a while, but being able to set a world record attendance is pretty phenomenal,” Scarratt said.
“Sugababes are playing at half-time and hopefully it will be for the Grand Slam, so it should be an awesome day.”
* O2 and the RFU have co-funded a half-time performance by the Sugababes for the Red Roses v France Women’s 6 Nations match on Saturday 29 April. For tickets, visit https://www.eticketing.co.uk/rfu/Events.