England winger Lydia Thompson on how side have built incredible record and going for Six Nations Grand Slam glory; Red Roses face France in Bayonne on Saturday at 2.15pm; Follow live updates from the Women’s Six Nations decider on skysports.com and the Sky Sports app
By Vicki Hodges
Last Updated: 29/04/22 6:20am
The last time England women lost a rugby match, Vladimir Putin had recently returned to Russia following a private audience with Pope Francis at The Vatican, Trevor Bayliss had helped mastermind the England men’s cricket team’s first World Cup success, and Covid-19 did not even exist.
It was July 14, 2019 that the Red Roses slipped to a 28-13 defeat against New Zealand in the Super Series in San Diego. It was a loss that spurred England into action and started laying the foundations for an incredible unbeaten run of 22 successive victories.
On Saturday that record run will be on the line with the Six Nations title and grand slam up for grabs when England face France in Bayonne.
For England and Worcester winger Lydia Thompson, who has a wealth of experience behind her after a decade wearing the Red Roses shirt, facing their biggest Six Nations challengers in recent years on their own patch will put that record to the sternest of tests.
“The crowds are amazing here,” Thompson told Sky Sports. “They’ve really set the bar high at getting supporters into stadiums and they’ve done that for many years now.
“Matches in France are noisy, very emotionally-charged and decisions get a lot of noise and reaction. I think it’s awesome.
“It’s a real opportunity for us to see if we can stick to our process, see if we can be quick learners and see if we can execute our moves with that pressure, with that noise. It’s a really exciting place to be. It is like a coliseum of energy. I’m excited to run out there.”
Indeed it was French surroundings, the Stade Marcel Michelin in Clermont-Ferrand, where England’s current unbeaten run all began with a 20-10 success in November 2019.
Yet they could not have foreseen that some 902 days later, they would have clocked up 22 straight wins.
“Our form has been building. The team did really well to come back strong after the pause with Covid and everyone’s intentions were with the World Cup. But then with that being moved back, it was all about growing and developing,” Thompson, who has won 52 caps, said.
“Those first few wins, no-one started talking about a run. But then, I think after the Autumn internationals we had in 2021, and playing and beating New Zealand twice and backing it up with performances against Canada and the USA, we are in a strong place and we want to continue to build upwards towards the World Cup later this year.”
Thompson believes the quality and growth within the domestic league has helped England drive forward their own standards.
“We’ve got an amazing Premier 15s set-up, where we’re all getting challenged. We can definitely say that we’re a result of the quality that we get at club level and every week of playing high intensity rugby against other players from different nations. The fact we’ve got so many different players from the Welsh, Scottish, American, Japanese teams, it’s just brilliant that we’ve got that calibre of player coming from those countries to make it a very competitive league.”
The unbeaten run has brought with it plenty of stand out moments and highlights according to Thompson.
“Those two wins over New Zealand last Autumn stand out. They are an incredible team so you know it’s going to be a challenge. We’ve had some close wins over France where we’ve had to keep our focus for the whole 80 minutes – and they’ve really pushed us.”
England’s last defeat in the Six Nations, came back in March 2018 when France narrowly won 18-17, while their previous meetings have also been competitive affairs with the Red Roses edging the 2020 contest in Pau 19-13 and 10-6 at Twickenham Stoop last year.
“Matches with them have been like a game of chess,and there have been a few wins that could have gone either way,” Thompson added. “That’s stuck in the mind because you have to think ‘what did we do to get that win’ and how could we make it a little bit easier for next time.”
The fixture at Bayonne’s Stade Jean Dauger sold out a month ago, and capacity crowds are something England have become accustomed to following record attendances at home for fixtures with Wales and Ireland earlier in the campaign.
“We are so lucky with the support we get with our home game,” the 30-year-old said. “Over the last few years, it’s really ramped up. We’ve had some amazing crowds at Exeter Chiefs, and then travelled around at the Stoop and then for people to bring their friends and families to Gloucester and Leicester, and to see so many young, future Red Roses and watching us and supporting us,we’ve really appreciated it.
“I got my first cap ten years ago and in that time it’s changed tremendously, the stadiums we’re filling now, the size of crowds is incredible and it’s something we don’t take for granted. Every time we run out there and hear the noise, it is a pinch me moment.”
Follow live updates from the Women’s Six Nations decider between France and England from 2.15pm on Saturday, via skysports.com and the Sky Sports app