he 2021 Women’s Six Nations will be one to remember. The uncertainty of COVID resulted in a postponed Championship, making it a standalone tournament running throughout the month of April.
Although we saw a change in format with the creation of two pools, it didn’t take away from the excitement of the tournament, with an England/ France Final the culmination of a month’s worth of free flowing rugby.
The tournament undoubtedly benefitted from not being in the shadow of the Men’s Competition, with increased visibility on social media.
However, further work is required to ensure that the games are regularly broadcasted to mainstream TV. The demand to watch Women’s rugby is certainly there; a more concerted effort to make it more widely available to view should be seen as an opportunity for Broadcasters.
The England Red Roses took control of Group A with a bonus point victory over Scotland. Poppy Cleall led from the front with 19 dominant carries and 107 metres gained in a Player of the Match performance. Jess Breach was another player who left her mark on the ‘Thistles’. The winger showcased how threatening she could be in the tournament with her powerful hand-off and sheer pace as she cut through the Scottish defence.
In group B, we saw France run in eight tries against Wales. Was this result down to ‘beginners’ nerves’ of the newly appointed head coach, Warren Abrahams, or potentially bigger underlying issues that need to be addressed in the women’s set up within the Welsh Rugby Union? A quick fire hat trick from Caroline Boujard in the first half, ignited the 53-0 win, accompanied by an incredible 18 offloads and 12-line breaks from Les Bleues.
In the second round of fixtures, a win for England secured their place in the Grand Final. Although England came away with a 67-3 win, the score line didn’t reflect the tight and tense first half, in which the Italians had 63% of the possession. The calm composure and patience of England allowed them to capitalise on some basic handling errors by the Italians. A strong second half performance, as the impressive Italians tired, allowed England to come away with a hard fought win. In Cardiff, Eimear Considine and Beibhinn Parsons stole the show in a 45-0 victory versus Wales.
The girls in green showed no signs of rustiness, even though their last competitive game was back in early 2020. Once again, Wales demonstrated passion and pride for the badge but, as Abrahams stated after the match, he felt that the performance just wasn’t good enough against a rampant Irish outfit.
So onto Round 3 of the tournament and with England already sure of their place in the Final, it was going to be interesting to see if the Irish could cause an upset against the French as well as seeing who would match up in the other Play Offs. Italian captain, Manuela Furlan grabbed a hatrick at Scoutson in a 41-20 win against Scotland. In similar fashion to their first game, the Italians started well scoring 2 tries in the space of 9 minutes. The Azzurre played with real attacking flair, with Beatrice Rigoni stealing the show, creating opportunities to attack throughout the game. In Scotland’s camp, a few early set-piece errors were resolved, and with an effective maul option off the back of good line out work, Lana Skeldon was able to get over the white wash.
In Pool B, Ireland and France were battling it out for the top spot having both beaten Wales. Two tries from Boujard, as well as tries from her back three counterparts, Boulard and Banet, sealed an impressive 56-15 win for Les Bleues. Ireland, although battling hard to the end, will have been disappointed with their performance, especially after their opening showing versus Wales, but they encountered an in form semi professional French team that played some spectacular rugby on the day.
Final and Play Offs
The Women’s Six Nations final and play-off rounds took place on the 24th April with reigning champions England taking on France at the Twickenham Stoop, Ireland v Italy at Energia Park, and Scotland v Wales at Scotstoun. The day began with Ireland taking on Italy in the 3rd/4th Play off match with the Home side winning 25-5. A scrappy first half was followed by a more entertaining second, with Sevens superstar, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe scoring two tries from the wing. Player of the match, Stacey Flood, saw out the game with sensible game management to claim 3rdposition for Ireland in this year’s competition.
Second up was the big head to head between Europe’s elite to decide who would be this year’s Six Nations Champions. In blustery conditions, both sides struggled for consistency with the opening half riddled with mistakes and defence firmly on top. A try just before half time from Number 8 Poppy Cleall gave England a 7-0 advantage going into the break. The second half saw the French scrum continue to dominate and a penalty by Caroline Drouin closed the gap with 10 minutes to play. Sensible game management and continued resolute defence from the English allowed them to see the game out with a late penalty by Emily Scarratt making the final score 10-6 and thereby securing the Championship.
On a beautiful afternoon at Scotstoun, Scotland started quickly with an early score from Megan Gaffney in the battle for 5th Place. Half time saw the Scots leading 17-5 but a great individual try straight after the break from Lisa Neuman got the Welsh firing. A much more even second half saw the Welsh finish strongly with a well deserved score in the corner by Caitlin Lewis, the game finishing in a 27-20 win to Scotland who claimed 5thPlace.