Women’s Six Nations 2023: Broken records and professional contracts - why this tournament was so ground-breaking
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While one side enjoyed an unbeaten run, in which they secured a bonus point in all five matches, the other end of the spectrum saw another team handed the wooden spoon with a points deficit of 167 staring them in the face.
So why would this tournament feel any different to what’s taken place before?
England lifted the trophy on Saturday afternoon following their 38-33 win over France while Ireland suffered a humiliating 32-10 defeat to Scotland in Edinburgh. For Ireland, this tournament hardly seems ‘ground-breaking’ while for England this must just seem like a formality.
But no. Both sides were playing in front of record crowds (albeit with a difference of over 50,000 at the two stadiums, but records nonetheless) and England enjoyed their first standalone Test match at Twickenham.
Additionally, this competition saw the rise of the professional contracts with five out of the six nations now enjoying central contracts with their Rugby federations.
So what’s next for the women’s Six Nations?
The Irish question
This has been a truly catastrophic tournament for the Irish women. It says quite a lot that their 48-0 loss to England two weeks ago was considered a success. They have been handed quite possibly the biggest wooden spoon and, to top it off, The Telegraph published a report on the allegations of deep-rooted sexism within the IRFU.
It’s hardly surprising that these allegations came out and Ireland women’s significant drop in form over recent years isn’t exactly screaming that their union is supporting them.
Eight years ago, Ireland won the Six Nations and now they can’t even win one match. They will sit in the third tier of World Rugby’s new WXV global three-tiered tournament.
Of course, these are far from ‘ground-breaking’ facts, but one must hope that this tournament has acted as a huge wake-up call and kick-up the backside of the IRFU to realise that their women’s squad is struggling and cannot continue in the mournful manner it has been.
Let’s face it, it can’t really get much worse for the women who just before the tournament had to watch their male counterparts win the Grand Slam in the Men’s Six Nations and see them sit first in the world rankings. So, now is the time for action and now, arguably more than ever, those within the IRFU need to wake up to the harsh realities staring them aggressively in the face.
England played France in front of 58,498 spectators at Twickenham on Saturday - a record crowd attendance for the women’s game and smashed the previous record (World Cup final 2022) by over 10,000.
Wales also hosted nearly 9,000 fans in Cardiff while Edinburgh’s Dam Health Stadium welcomed 4,862 fans - home crowd records for both the Welsh and Scottish squads. Of course, these records are somewhat modest in comparison to Twickenham’s crowd but it has signalled that now is the time to start thinking bigger.
It may be some time before Wales are playing regularly in the Principality or before we will see anywhere near the capacity for matches to be hosted in Murrayfield, but France could well expand their perimeters and it’s exciting to imagine that these figures may soon pale into insignificance as the rise of Women’s Rugby continues to develop.
England will not play every fixture at Twickenham from now on, of course, but, as BBC’s Chris Jones said: “It’s a very different crowd today - far more women and children. It’s very cool to see so many people here today who aren’t Twickenham regulars. It all contributed to it being a special day in English rugby history.”
At the moment, Women’s Rugby is all about thinking bigger and England’s Grand Slam day is proof that the interest is there for these big occasions to happen more and more frequently. Hopefully within the next five to ten years we can realistically believe all six squads will be able to host at least one or two games in the country’s main stadium.
When’s the next Women’s Rugby tournament?
This autumn will see the inaugural WXV - the aforementioned three-tier global women’s tournament which has been designed to give teams more regular and competitive Test matches.
England, France and Wales have all qualified for the top tier due to their Six Nations positions while Scotland are in WXV2. Italy will now face a play-off with Spain for a place in WXV2 but if they are unsuccessful they will join Ireland in the bottom tier.