Just two weeks ago, uncertainty remained over whether the Women’s Six Nations, scheduled for April, would go ahead. With no fixture times or venue information available, it seems like a miracle that the Championship is about to kick off this Saturday with England vs Scotland, followed by France vs Wales.
Emily Salley runs through five things to look out for on the opening weekend.
This year’s Women’s Six Nations will look somewhat different to previous tournaments. Whilst we have seen the men complete their Championship in traditional fashion, a reduced format has been put in place for the women.
This is due to concerns over COVID-19 safety – teams are mainly made up of amateur players who haven’t been subjected to regular testing.
The teams are split into two pools and the Championship is condensed across four consecutive weekends in April. Each team will play a home and away fixture within their pool and the tournament will finish with a ‘finals’ weekend, which will see sides face their ranked equivalent in the opposite pool.
Pool A consists of current title holders England, along with Scotland and Italy. France, Ireland and Wales will feature in Pool B.
England and France finale?
The tournament kick-starts at 3pm on Saturday with Scotland travelling to Castle Park in Doncaster to take on England, while the French host Wales in the later fixture at 8pm in Stade de la Rabine.
Last year, the same fixtures showcased England and France’s dominance in the Six Nations, with the Red Roses putting 53 points past the Scots and Wales suffering a heavy 50-0 defeat at the hands of Les Bleus.
There is no doubt that England and France are the favourites to top their respective pools and meet on Super Saturday for the finals. Since 2016, France have won the Six Nations twice, while England have three trophies and will be relishing the prospect of securing three Championships and Grand Slams in a row.
England’s No. 10 jersey
After a sensational international career with the Red Roses, fly-half Katy Daley-Mclean announced her retirement in December 2020, leaving Simon Middleton with the tough task of finding her replacement.
It is not an easy act to follow considering Daley-Mclean won 116 caps, making her England’s third most capped player. She won nine Six Nations along the way and captained her country to World Cup glory in 2014.
Despite having less international experience than contenders Meg Jones and Zoe Harrison, Loughborough Lightning’s Helena Rowland will be the first player to pull on the No. 10 jersey. She made her debut against Italy in the last Six Nations.
Jones, who is the current top points scorer in the Allianz Premier 15s, will cover for Rowland. Harrison, the frontrunner to replace Daley-Mclean, is absent from the match-day squad after breaching coronavirus protocols. She failed to file a daily health report on three occasions.
It’s been over a year since Wales played an international test. Their final match of the 2020 Six Nations against Scotland in November was cancelled.
As the only team not to have played in the autumn matches, Wales finished bottom of the table having not fulfilled all five fixtures. Prior to that, they lost to Italy, Ireland, France and endured a final 38-7 defeat to England.
Yet, Wales’s previous encounter with France will be all too fresh in the player’s minds, and a 50-plus defeat will not feature in head coach Warren Abrahams’ plans as he hands two players their debuts – Sale Sharks’ Jess Roberts and Donna Rose of Saracens. Teleri Wyn Davies will get her first start in the second row after making an appearance in last years’ Championship.
Chance to shine for Tokyo
At the beginning of last year’s tournament, it seemed inconceivable that it could be disrupted by a global pandemic. For several players, they had plans to finish the 2020 Championship and then launch themselves into preparation for rugby sevens at the Tokyo Olympics in July.
Those plans are still a reality for the players hoping to be on the plane to Japan this summer and it is another chance to prove themselves as contenders for the final GB sevens squad.
Scott Forrest, Great Britain’s women’s sevens head coach, will be watching every round with a keen eye to see if he has made the right selection choices for his initial 19-woman side.
The first weekend will see five sevens players start for Bryan Easson’s Scotland – Megan Gaffey, Helen Nelson, Chloe Rollie, Hannah Smith and Lisa Thompson. The two sevens players in the Wales camp, Hannah Jones and Jasmine Joyce, will start against France, while England only have Helena Rowland featuring in their starting XV.
Where to watch
For UK-based audiences, BBC iPlayer will show both of Saturday's games live, while the RTE Player gives access to viewers in Ireland. Eurosport Player is available in Italy.
Emily SalleyNews Now - Sport News