Reflecting on the 2022 TikTok Women’s Six Nations so far

A Women's Six Nations match between England and Wales in Gloucester, England
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With three rounds gone we now have a fallow week before the final two rounds of this year’s tournament. So now is a perfect time to take stock of what we have seen so far. Here are the major talking points of the TikTok Women’s Six Nations.

A take on the Women’s Six Nations

Professional contracts are making a difference

It is no surprise that the two teams at the top of the table are England and France. These teams have the largest pool of players to pick from. More significantly though, they also have players on professional contracts.

This means that in a time when the game is yet to go fully professional and many players must have another job to help support their rugby aspirations, those on professional contracts have the time to focus purely on their rugby.

Therefore, the scope for improvement of these players is far greater than those with another major employment commitment. It has created a chasm between the haves and the have-nots. The Red Roses have scored 31 tries while Italy, Scotland and Ireland have just one win between them.

The expectation was that professional contracts and retainer deals would take a while to translate into results on the field for the Welsh team. This idea could not have been more wrong though as Wales sit third with two wins from three.

This is night and day when compared to last year when the Welsh suffered a winless campaign. They even failed to cross for a single try in the previous Women’s Six Nations competition. Furthermore, this is with just 12 full-time professionals, imagine the added improvements with even more contracts.

In a game that is becoming more popular with every passing game at the moment the results of those with professional contracts are showing that this has to be the way forward. If teams are serious about women’s rugby, then they need to start investing more money into the sport.

This does not necessarily mean creating a fully professional league straight away. Taking steps like those taken by Wales can create a sustainable way forward that still makes a huge difference to the quality of the team on the field.

Italy will be the latest to make a similar move as they will be handing out 25 centralised contracts before the World Cup. This will commit players for 80-130 days per year.

Record crowds in the Women’s Six Nations

Speaking of a game growing in popularity, attendance records have been falling with every passing round. Wales, Ireland and Scotland have seen record home attendances. France has registered impressive numbers with over 11,000 in Toulouse to see Ireland beaten by Les Blues.

Most excitingly though in Round 3, the Red Roses set a record for a standalone home fixture. A spectacular 14,689 fans flocked to Kingsholm to see England take on Wales. On top of this, we are still yet to see how many people attend Le Crunch in Round 5 where the stadium has a capacity of over 18,000 fans to watch, which could still prove to be a grand slam decider.

With a World Cup just around the corner, the number of fans coming through the turnstiles in Europe is a promising sign for what could prove to be a spectacular tournament in terms of the rugby that was played, and the lasting impact on the growth of the sport.

What the numbers tell us is that not only is the game growing in popularity, those that are investing in growing the product on and off the pitch are seeing the greatest number of bums on seats. This furthers the case once again for more countries to introduce professional contracts as soon as possible.

The depth of the Red Roses

Other coaches in the Women’s game must look over at Simon Middleton with envy. To have the ability to change the team up so much each week, including starting a different scrum-half each week, and still get a team putting out such dominant performances is a luxury that no other team in world rugby yet has access to.

So far England has named 31 different players in the matchday squad. That does not include Hannah Botterman and Zoe Aldcroft who have been in camp and are nearing a return from injury.

Having such a large number of players playing at a very high standard makes the coaches’ job amazing and impossible. They are safe in the knowledge that if any player goes down with an injury like Abby Dow has just done, there will be someone who is more than capable to step up.

However, this makes picking a team each weekend very difficult and picking a World Cup squad later this year is going to be incredibly tough. Areas such as the back row, centre and back three are particularly competitive. Additionally, the fact that many of these players can play multiple positions means more options for the coaches, but that comes with more decisions too.

Women’s Six Nations sees blowout games

English and French fans will be very happy with the results so far. However, the number of one-sided matches this year can slightly detract from the overall product. Only two games so far and finished with a winning margin of fewer than 10 points. That is not the sign of a tournament where every game could go either way.

Foregone conclusions mean less exciting games. This hurts when trying to market a relatively new product like the Women’s Six Nations. When you add in that matches are being shown on free to view tv, there is the potential for fans to think twice about buying a ticket.

To create a truly spectacular event we need to see as many games as possible going deep into the contest. Without this, we risk some games being seen as nothing but a formality. Once again this brings us back to professional contracts as it is those in possession that are seen racking up cricket scores on their opposition.

Le Crunch

One game that we cannot call before kick-off is the highly anticipated match between Les Blues and the Red Roses. Before the tournament, many fans and pundits were predicting that this would be the grand slam decider and while coaches and players remained tight-lipped on the subject, it looks as though that prediction will come true.

They were comfortably the two best teams during the Autumn fixtures. Furthermore, they have been leading the way in Women’s rugby for several years, especially in the northern hemisphere. Both sides will go in full of confidence and the beautiful city of Bayonne is the perfect place to stage what should be an incredible deciding match.

Home advantage will play its part as the French is one of the best at creating a wonderful atmosphere. The Red Roses have a serious run of form behind them though with 21 consecutive victories. However, the number of world-class players on both teams, especially in the halves means that anyone could take the title and extra momentum leading into October.

 

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