Captain Sarah Hunter is confident England will thrive in the partisan environment created by France’s fervent fans in Le Crunch on Sunday, writes Geoff Berkeley.
The Red Roses begin the defence of their Women’s Six Nations crown with a lunchtime kick-off at the Stade du Hameau.
Les Bleus came agonisingly close to upsetting England at Exeter’s Sandy Park in November, only for Lydia Thompson to cross in the final minute to clinch a 17-15 win.
And with a vocal home crowd behind them France will be looking to finish the job this time around.
Hunter insists there’s no better way to start the tournament than coming up against France and reckons England will bring their own army of supporters to spur them on to victory.
“It’s usually a very patriotic crowd in France and can be a bit hostile,” Hunter said. “But we really thrive in those environments.
“It’s fantastic for the women’s game to see how much support they can generate.
“We are starting to develop a Red Roses travelling fan base that includes family and friends.
“The game is massively growing now so having a few St George’s flags out there is always nice to see.
“You look forward to big games and there is no better way to kick off the tournament. We are now champing at the bit to get the competition started.”
At the beginning of 2019, Hunter was among 28 England players to be awarded full-time contracts for the year by the RFU.
The Loughborough Lightning star believes the Red Roses, who stormed to Grand Slam glory in 2019, are benefitting from this move and hopes other nations will follow suit.
“As a player it has been a great year and we have seen an all-round improvement from a physical and skills point of view,” Hunter added.
“What the contracts have allowed us to do is have quality sessions so whether that is in the gym or on the field we can enhance what we are doing.
“Because we have got time to recover fully the quality of what we can do is probably the biggest thing.
“You are able to have some downtime as well so when you come back into rugby you are not distracted by other things going on like when we had to balance a full-time job as well.
“As you saw last year teams are progressing and putting more time and money into the game.
“All of the home nations had fixtures in the autumn and a lot of them had warm-up games for the Six Nations.
“We have got fantastic support from the RFU to allow us to be professional and we hope that other unions will follow and keep pushing this great game and great tournament onwards.”