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Burford column: Grand Slam finale should be a real showstopper

Both teams are four wins from four, even though they might not be delighted with how they have played, and we have the Grand Slam decider we all predicted. The quality and competition will be a step up from anything we have seen so far. It should be an absolute showstopper.

In truth, this game needed to take place on the final weekend, because it was always going to be the decider. You don’t want the tournament sorted in round two or three.

I do believe, though, that the tournament won’t be so reliant on this fixture from next year. Professionalism means that other teams are closing the gap.

This has been a transformational tournament, one of the best ever. The rugby has been good, with teams improving fast, and the interest has gone through the roof, with record crowds and broadcast figures.

So many of us have been saying for years that there is interest in women’s rugby and thought there would be a year like this. But did we think it would happen this quickly, so soon after lockdown hit sport so hard? I’m not sure we did, but it’s been fantastic to see.

England’s winning run is now 22, but they will have to take a few steps up if they are to keep it going tomorrow; they must start better than they have been. By contrast, France have started fast — and not let up for the full 80. England can’t just hope to pull away in the second half, like they did against Ireland last week.

England are missing captain Sarah Hunter through injury, and while her leadership, experience and talent will be missed, I don’t see it being the difference. There are players who did not even make the plane to France who could easily start these days. Because of that, I’m still not sure Simon Middleton knows what his best team is.

These two are in the same World Cup pool later this year, and it’s easy to look ahead. But England have plenty of motivation besides that: keeping this winning streak going, winning another Grand Slam and proving again that they are the best in the world.

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