Another Grand Slam is on the cards for the Red Roses after they brushed aside Wales
Is England’s dominance good for the Women’s Six Nations?
England’s march to back-to-back Women’s Six Nations Grand Slams continued with a 66-7 victory against Wales at Twickenham Stoop on Saturday.
Quite when Sarah Hunter & Co will be able to complete the clean sweep and lift the trophy is undetermined given that their final match against Italy – along with several others in the women’s championship – has been postponed due to the cornonavirus outbreak.
Yet the inevitable nature of this title triumph raises serious questions about the Women’s Six Nations.
England have scored 165 points in their four victories to date and conceded only 20. In two matches – against Scotland and Ireland – they kept their opponents scoreless while France and Wales crossed for only one try apiece, the Welsh one a penalty award after England failed to clear their lines.
Those figures underline exactly how dominant the Red Roses have been in this championship. Once they had seen off France in their opening game, the engravers could have got to work on the trophy. And the fact the Women’s Six Nations is such a foregone conclusion undermines the entire championship.
The record crowd at the Stoop will have enjoyed seeing England run in ten tries – including a hat-trick for lock Poppy Cleall – but how can supporter engagement be maintained when so many results are almost preordained?
Sport is meant to be competitive, there needs to be an element of the unknown in results. England’s players and coaches can talk about how tough matches are, how scorelines don’t reflect the contests, but ultimately they are competing against themselves, trying to improve on their last performance.
Yes, England are professional, but the onus has to be on the other nations – or more specifically the unions – to raise their own standards. Otherwise the integrity of the tournament will continue to be challenged.
The one-sided nature of matches is perfectly illustrated by the statistics from the win over Wales. The visitors spent only 36 seconds in the England 22, made zero line breaks to England’s 12 and put in 217 tackles compared to just 84 from the hosts.
The physicality of the English pack was the standout feature of the Wales fixture. The fact eight of their ten tries came from the forwards, six from the tight five, illustrates the power game England played, so much so that you barely saw the backs making breaks. World Player of the Year Emily Scarratt wasn’t required to bust the line until the closing minutes.
The skill level of those forwards has undoubtedly been enhanced by the extra time they have to work on those areas as professionals, but more significantly they are better conditioned – stronger, fitter, faster.
Ask England coach Simon Middleton about the state of the Six Nations and he focuses on the advantage his team have physically.
“It is competitive in many ways,” he insists. “Wales were very competitive and the score didn’t reflect their performance.
“It’s how you address the physical balance. With the greatest respect, we can physically dominate sides. That’s the bit the other nations need to address – how to afford the time and resources to develop players physically.
“That’s the biggest difference being full-time has made to us: physical preparation. We have the time to train at a really high level, the highest level we can. We’ve got great athletes in the squad, incredibly athletic players.”
Other unions do not yet seem willing – or indeed able – to invest in their women’s teams to the same level as England. The tournament organisers have failed to monetise the championship with standalone sponsors or a TV deal, with countries negotiating their own broadcasting agreements (although there are plans for that to change going forward).
Until these things happen, or unions at least increase their investment in their women’s 15s programmes, there will continue to be a disparity in standards in these fixtures. That’s what happens when it’s amateurs versus professionals – and it does little to help the credibility of the tournament.
The April issue of Rugby World magazine – focusing on a new generation of Six Nations stars – is out now.
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