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2023 Women's 6 Nations

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Post by Poorfour Mon Apr 17, 2023 10:20 pm

As we hit the halfway point in this year's W6N, the scorelines would suggest that little has changed since last year. England and France are at the top of the table, Scotland and Ireland at the bottom with Wales and Italy in the middle.

However, on the ground there are signs that things are changing. Wales sold out the Arms Park for Saturday's clash with England, and while they were ultimately soundly beaten for the first 35 minutes Wales went toe to toe with England and put them under real pressure. Wales had parity in the scrum and the better of possession; only some excellent goal line defence and their own inablity to find the right gaps to target stopped them building on their early 3 point lead. England eventually took control of the game, and ran up a huge scoreline as the defence started to tire (and particularly once Wales had to sub Tuipolotu, who was struggling with a shoulder knock from early in the game, robbing Wales of one of their biggest attacking weapons).

Meanwhile, Italy gave France some real problems on the first day of the tournament, and will be looking to beat Scotland to go into their final round clash with Wales with third place on the line. Scotland in turn will be looking at Italy as a winnable game but in reality will be targeting Ireland to finish the tournament with at least one win to their names.

England still look favourite for the likely Grand Slam decider against France, but the key question will be to see how close to capacity Twickenham gets. The match is already on track to be a world record crowd for a standalone women's game, and while the very cheap tickets are likely a factor in that it's a sign that the women's game can be an engine for growth.

In comparison with the men's game, one of the big questions in looking at how the game can grow is to work out what the right point of comparison is with the men's game. It's not sensible to compare it to the current state of the men's International game. 25 years' professionalism makes a huge difference compared to less than a full RWC cycle - both in terms of skills and audience. A better comparison might be with the U20s men's Internationals, or with where the men's club game was in 1997-99. Skill and fitness levels, crowds and pay are actually broadly comparable to that era as far as I can see - but there's a good chance that the women's game can climb the curve faster than the men with the right support given the lessons that have already been learned and the infratructure that's now in place.

In a related note, Ms Poorfour Maj and I went to visit a college that hosts one of the Premier 15s' Centres of Excellence last week as a first step to considering it as a 6th form option. The Centres of Excellence are the Girls' Youth equivalent of the boys' DPP/junior Academy setups, but they have only been running long enough for the first few graduates to have reached the Prem 15s senior squads. As we see more throughput from these, we should see the skill levels and physical preparation of girls entering the pro game increase dramatically. Ms Poorfour Maj was pretty sold on the setup, which would let her effectively schedule "Rugby" as a 4th subject alongside her A-levels, with the likely benefit that 10-12 hours of training per week can make.
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Post by mountain man Mon Apr 17, 2023 10:46 pm

I was only able to catch highlights of Eng Wales match but some superb tries and I'm pleased the backs were far more evident than last season when the mighty impressive driving maul was used to great effect but there's more to rugby than that. As NZ showed in final, having brilliant running backs is as important. I know some disagree but I thought in the RWC final NZ were better in backline, even when red card taken into consideration.

Anyway, England on track for Slam unless they have a massive off day/slew of cards against France.

Wales getting better but England just too good. I worry for Ireland who are likely to get an absolute pasting against England.

I enjoy the womens 6N, some of the physicality from Englands forwards is very impressive and Dow and Breach superb on wings.

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Post by No 7&1/2 Tue Apr 18, 2023 2:25 am

Looks like they're letting loose a bit more. Was always going to be hard to show more in the backs after the red and probably the best bet was to keep it tight and not get into a to and fro game as much as possible. Will be interesting to see the fitness levels following other teams turning pro but at this stage there is a huge gap I'm every aspect.

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Post by TJ Tue Apr 18, 2023 3:40 am

I haven't really enjoyed it at all. Too many one sided matches with full time pros against amateurs. I tend to turnoff any game thats a thumping mens or womens.



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Post by Poorfour Tue Apr 18, 2023 5:38 am

TJ wrote:I haven't really enjoyed it at all.  Too many one sided matches with full time pros against amateurs.  I tend to turnoff any game thats a thumping mens or womens.  



It’s no longer full time pros against amateurs.

All of the teams in the tournament are now professional. England and France have been for a couple of years, but Wales, Italy and Scotland handed our pro contracts ahead of the RWC and Ireland have just gone pro.

Clearly that means some teams have had longer to develop than others, but the gap is closing. The key difference between the top two and the next two down is one of how long they can maintain their fundamentals, but that will change with time.
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Post by Mr Bounce Thu Apr 20, 2023 5:48 pm

I think it speaks volumes about the strength in depth that England had 19 injuries and withdrawals of top players then got 2 more plus their Captain retired after round 1, and they're still putting in 50+ beatings. They are on the 3rd choice half backs, had a major prop shortage and it's made precious little difference.

Aside from 25 minutes against Wales, they're playing brilliantly.

Looking forward to being part of the record breaking 50k+ crowd against France at Twickenham.

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Post by mountain man Thu Apr 20, 2023 5:56 pm

Realistically the France match be only competitive one for England, Ireland I think will get smashed.
Middleton has addressed imbalance in BBC article: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/rugby-union/65326791.

Basically it's up to the other unions to up their game, most are but still plenty to do to achieve anything like parity.

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Post by Poorfour Thu Apr 20, 2023 6:21 pm

Mr Bounce wrote:I think it speaks volumes about the strength in depth that England had 19 injuries and withdrawals of top players then got 2 more plus their Captain retired after round 1, and they're still putting in 50+ beatings. They are on the 3rd choice half backs, had a major prop shortage and it's made precious little difference.

Aside from 25 minutes against Wales, they're playing brilliantly.

Looking forward to being part of the record breaking 50k+ crowd against France at Twickenham.

I thought they played well even in that period against Wales. It was more that Wales raised their game to compete with England - but the goal line defence was superb. Wales had dominance in possession and went into the English 22 4 times, but only came away with 3 points. When England got their chances, I think it was 4 visits and 3 tries which is a return that any team would be proud of.

The key thing about the Wales match was that it pointed to the future. Wales with 18 months of some professionalism and 6 months with a full squad under contract came through the first half still in the game - by RWC 2025, they could well be competitive for the full 80.

The France game could be quite something, though, because they look to be closer to full strength and have also been playing really well.
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Post by mountain man Sun Apr 23, 2023 6:08 pm

Red Roses won as pretty much everyone expected but they were poor by their standards.
I think Middleton will make changes to starting XV. Good to see Rowland back, she is class and made a positive impact.

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Post by Poorfour Mon Apr 24, 2023 7:07 pm

mountain man wrote:Red Roses won as pretty much everyone expected but they were poor by their standards.
I think Middleton will make changes to starting XV. Good to see Rowland back, she is class and made a positive impact.

Haven't watched the game yet but I agree that changes are likely - England will need to be close to their best for France, but there's also the need to develop players for a short RWC cycle
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Post by mountain man Mon Apr 24, 2023 7:40 pm

France were very impressive in first half yesterday so England will need to be fully on it. The French pack can match and arguably beat England so it'll be a battle up front.

Agree Ireland game was always a win so rying different combinations good(some enforced through injury).

No question strongest available 15/23 be picked for Saturday though.

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Post by Poorfour Wed Apr 26, 2023 11:45 pm

Strong team from England:
15. Kildunne
14. Dow
13. Rowland
12. Heard
11. Macdonald
10. Aitchison
9. Packer L
1. Botterman
2. Davies
3. Bern
4. Aldcroft
5. Beckett
6. Kabeya
7. Packer M (c)
8. Matthews

16. Powell
17. Carson
18. Muir
19. Cleall
20. Talling
21. Hunt
22. Reed
23. Breach

When you consider who's injured and dropped, that's still impressive.
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Post by Heaf Sat Apr 29, 2023 10:56 pm

Red Roses tearing France to shreds at the moment ...

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Post by Heaf Sun Apr 30, 2023 12:20 am

Big turnaround in the 2nd half but England hold on to secure another Grand Slam ...

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Post by Mr Bounce Mon May 01, 2023 5:59 pm

I was there. What a fabulous atmosphere.

And the 2 French guys sitting in front of us were VERY entertaining.

Pleasure to be part part of a record breaking crowd and also to get England dominance in one half and French flair in the other. Brilliant.

Thank you Simon Middleton for all you have done for England Women's rugby.

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Post by Poorfour Tue May 02, 2023 7:50 pm

Reflecting on the day, the pattern of scoring was never as one-sided - in either direction - as it seemed. Both teams were playing to a very high standard, with some quite different strengths and weaknesses.

France's kicking game was superior to England's, with the England receivers regularly misjudging how far the kicks would go and having to scramble to recover - and they weren't able to return the same distance, which led that long period of pressure in the first quarter. France were only stopped from scoring by some excellent goal line defence and breakdown work by Botterman in particular.

But on the other hand, England had a clear edge at the scrum and breakdown, and their use of the possession they did get was utterly ruthless - never more so than Dow's try, which was over almost before I managed to turn to my host and say "Now let's see what England can do with a bit of attacking possession."

The first half was actually very similar to the first half against Wales in that regard - the difference being that Wales tired in the second half and England could continue to exert dominance, France didn't. Their second half energy levels were higher and the French replacements did better than the English ones.

To some extent that's a feature of how the game played out - for all that England finished the first half the stronger, all that early defending had clearly taken a toll. England's very ruthlessness ironically left France in better shape to play in the second half. Towards the middle of the second half, I was reminded of another famous game I went to: Bristol v Quins at Ashton Gate in 2021. The pattern of play was very similar, but ultimately England were able to slow the French attack down enough to earn the win. I think it might even have been one of the Roses who commented afterwards that if France had had 5 more minutes they might have won.

All of that is good news for a few reasons. Firstly, it suggests that as professionalism beds in the other 6 Nations will become more competitive. They'll have more players with the fitness to last 80 minutes, and that will begin to narrow the gap.

Secondly, it suggests that England have room to improve. They were missing almost a whole team of potental players through injury (though not all of them might have made the final squad), and clearly there's the potential for developing their fitness and strength in depth ahead of RWC 2025 - and a plan B to absorb pressure late in the game.

Thirdly, the possibility of filling Twickenham for RWC 2025 now looks much more plausible. It may not be too far to go to suggest that the semi-finals should be held there too - which would work for the Kiwi and French fans who, let's face it, are likely to be half of the contenders. It occurs to me that they could play the semis as a double header and sell tickets for the whole day - which I think would work with the audience, be fair to the teams and would be a fantastic day out. The only downside would be whether they could sell even more tickets by holding it as two separate events.
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Post by No 7&1/2 Tue May 02, 2023 8:53 pm

John Mitchell apparently going to be the new coach for England.

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Post by Poorfour Tue May 02, 2023 9:47 pm

No 7&1/2 wrote:John Mitchell apparently going to be the new coach for England.

So RugbyPass are reporting. He could be an inspired choice.
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Post by lostinwales Fri May 19, 2023 8:20 pm

Team of the tournament

Team of the tournament: Chloe Rollie (Scotland); Jessica Breach (England), Marine Menager (France), Gabrielle Vernier (France), Abby Dow (England); Holly Aitchison (England), Pauline Bourdon (France); Hannah Botterman (England), Lana Skeldon (Scotland), Sisilia Tuipulotu (Wales), Zoe Aldcroft (England), Sarah Beckett (England), Sadia Kabeya (England), Marlie Packer (England) Alex Matthews (England).

Player of the series Gabrielle Vernier

Breach is good (exceptional, really) but I think Macdonald had a better series. Dow is just on another level

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Post by Poorfour Fri May 19, 2023 8:53 pm

That's a pretty good team - though it seems very harsh on Sarah Bern, who I thought had a better overall tournament than Tuipolutu.

It's a mesure of just how spoiled for choice England are that players who were backups a year ago made up so much of the team of the tournament and that in the back three that Breach isn't an automatic first choice, despite her scoring record.
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