By Jackie Finlan
The Women’s Six Nations kicks off the first weekend of February and highlights how difficult it is for many of the world's best women's national teams to get regular games.
One-off tests and tours can happen, for sure, but many major nations have a difficult time finding a true annual tournament against competitive opposition. This is certainly a problem for the USA and Canada, and even for New Zealand and Australia. But in Europe, they have it figured out with the Six Nations.
The Women's Six Nations Will Be Live-Streamed By FloRugby - all 15 games available live and on-demand for USA-based subscribers.
Older Than You Might Think
The 15s tournament, contested in round-robin style every February-March, mirrors the longstanding men's tournament, with England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland, and Wales facing off. Its roots date back to 1996, and in 2007 the Six Nations officially adopted the women’s event. Fast-forward 10 years, and 7.5 million viewers from the six participating countries watched the 2017 Women’s Six Nations games live.
England, Scotland, and Wales have competed in all 22 tournaments, dating back to the 1996 Women’s Home Nations Championship. England has been the most successful, winning 14 titles overall, but that trend halted five years ago. Ireland and France exchanged the Women’s Six Nations trophy between 2013-16, until England returned to the top spot in 2017. There’s no reason to doubt that 2018 will be another entertaining season.
This year's tournament kicks off the first weekend of February, with Scotland at Wales (Feb. 2), Ireland at France (Feb. 3), and England at Italy (Feb. 4).
Top-ranked England won 15 of 16 tests in 2017, with that lone loss coming in the Women’s Rugby World Cup (WRWC) final to New Zealand. Coach Simon Middleton and squad took important lessons from that defeat and focused on physicality and defense when readying for the Old Mutual Wealth Series against Canada in November. England ticked all of its objectives in the convincing clean sweep, which also brought young talent like Jess Breach to the fore. The debutante wing scored 11 tries against Canada in two games.
But you won’t see Breach in the England training squad, along with notables such as Emily Scarratt, Amy Wilson Hardy, Natasha Hunt, and Vicky Fleetwood. These 15s World Cup vets will be representing England on the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series in Sydney. With the Commonwealth Games and Rugby World Cup Sevens this year, they're needed elsewhere.
Round 1: Feb. 4 at Italy (Stadio Mirabello)
Round 2: Feb. 10 vs. Wales (The Stoop, Twickenham)
Round 3: Feb. 23 at Scotland (Scotsdoun Stadium, Glasgow)
Round 4: March 10 at France (Stade de Alpes, Grenoble)
Round 5: March 16 vs. Ireland (Ricoh Arena)
England’s situation is not unique, and France spent December dividing its player pool between the Women’s Six Nations, Sydney 7s, U20s, and developmental squads. While viewers won’t see players like Amedee Montserrat, Caroline Drouin, and Camille Grassineau in Les Bleus’ opener against Ireland on Feb. 3 (they’ll be in Sydney), they will see a lot of experience take the pitch inside Stade Ernest Wallon.
Safi N'diaye, Gaelle Mignot, Marjorie Mayans, and Romane Menager are just a few of the names that will be repeated often this season.
France is second on the list of Women’s Six Nations titles with five and finished third at the 2017 WRWC (with a 31-23 win over the U.S.). Les Bleus then regrouped for a pair of November tests against Spain (97-0 win) and Italy (41-21 win).
Round 1: Feb. 3 vs. Ireland (Stade Ernest Wallon)
Round 2: Feb. 10 at Scotland (Scotsdoun Stadium, Glasgow)
Round 3: Feb. 24 vs. Italy (Stade Furiani)
Round 4: March 10 vs. England (Stade de Alpes, Grenoble)
Round 5: March 16 at Wales (Parc Eirias, Colwyn Bay)
Ireland had a less auspicious WRWC experience, as the tournament host finished a disappointing eighth. Tom Tierney was subsequently removed as head coach, and player fallout followed when the Irish RFU advertised the vacancy as casual and part-time. Adam Griggs has been appointed the interim head coach and will be reassessed after the Women’s Six Nations.
Griggs gets to ease into the job, somewhat, as Ireland will play a warmup match against Wales on Jan. 22, which will also mark 24-year-old Ciara Griffin’s first appearance as captain. Griggs is using the opportunity to blood seven uncapped players while also resting some veterans. It’s a necessity considering that nine players named to the Women’s Six Nations training squad will miss the opener against France due to their inclusion on the Sydney 7s team.
Round 1: Feb. 3 at France (Stade Ernest Wallon)
Round 2: Feb. 11 vs. Italy (Donnybrook, Dublin)
Round 3: Feb. 23 vs. Wales (Donnybrook, Dublin)
Round 4: March 11 vs. Scotland (Donnybrook, Dublin)
Round 5: March 16 at England (Ricoh Arena)
Wales beat Ireland 27-17 in that WRWC seventh-place game, and head coach Rowland Phillips has kept many players from the summer campaign. He’s also injected the most uncapped players to a training squad, with five players apiece in the forwards and backs. Captain Carys Phillips will be the voice to follow on the pitch and driving the momentum gained at the World Cup.
Wales' opening opponent, Scotland, will also get a run-out two weeks before the Women’s Six Nations when it plays Spain. The two met in November and Scotland triumphed 24-5. That said, Spain (10) is still ranked above Scotland (12), which did not feature in the WRWC and does not compete on the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series. Spain does play in the sevens series and was a member of the Women’s Six Nations tournament until 2007, when the team was replaced by Italy.
Round 1: Feb. 2 vs. Scotland (Parc Eirias, Colwyn Bay)
Round 2: Feb. 10 at England (The Stoop, Twickenham)
Round 3: Feb. 25 at Ireland (Donnybrook, Dublin)
Round 4: March 11 vs. Italy (Principality Stadium)
Round 5: March 16 vs. France (Parc Eirias, Colwyn Bay)
Although Scotland missed out on some important fixtures, it has spent good time together. Four players, who are on included in the training squad and featuring against Spain, signed full-time contracts with France’s Lille Metropole Rugby Club Villeneuvois. Watch for prop Jade Konkel, fullback Chloe Rollie, outside center Lisa Thomson, and reserve Sarah Law to inject their professional experience into the squad.
Round 1: Feb. 2 at Wales (Parc Eirias, Colwyn Bay)
Round 2: Feb. 10 vs. France (Scotsdoun Stadium, Glasgow)
Round 3: Feb. 23 vs. England (Scotsdoun Stadium, Glasgow)
Round 4: March 11 at Ireland (Donnybrook, Dublin)
Round 5: March 18 at Italy (Stadio Plebiscito)
Italy won a thriller of a rematch over Spain to end its World Cup campaign in ninth place. The team then regrouped for the beginning on a new cycle and played France to a 20-point loss in November. Head coach Andrea Di Giandomenico has included eight newcomers in the 32-player Women’s Six Nations training squad and will rely on the veteran leadership of Sara Barattin (77 caps), Manuela Furlan (61 caps), and Lucia Gai (52 caps). Michela Sillari (39), Italy’s leading points and try scorer at the World Cup, is also back.
Round 1: Feb. 4 vs. England (Stadio Mirabello)
Round 2: Feb. 11 at Ireland (Donnybrook, Dublin)
Round 3: Feb. 24 at France (Stade Furiani)
Round 4: March 11 at Wales (Principality Stadium)
Round 5: March 16 vs. Scotland (Stadio Plebiscito)
Jackie Finlan is the editor of The Rugby Breakdown and a longtime reporter on the women's game in the USA and internationally.