Women’s Six Nations 2021 takes place in a standalone international window for the first time and will be played over four consecutive weekends under a new format that leaves no margin for error.
As the dust settles on a thrilling men’s Six Nations, it is now the turn of the women to step forward and deliver what should be an equally compelling tournament.
With all the fixtures to be broadcast on a mix of terrestrial and digital services, the tournament promises to reach an even larger audience and act as a brilliant showcase for the women’s game after what has been a tough year.
Ben Morel, CEO of Six Nations Rugby, commented: “We are thrilled to launch the Women’s Six Nations Championship today and want to thank everyone for their efforts in getting us to this point. It is a privilege for us to be in a position to stage these matches despite the ongoing challenges presented by COVID-19.
“There is so much to look forward to with this year’s tournament. Top class action, a new format, all matches being broadcast, a first ever Super Saturday, all of which is taking place in a standalone window for the first time ever. We cannot wait for it all to start.
“Developing the women’s game is a top priority for the Six Nations, and we see huge opportunities for growth. This has been a key focus for us in recent years and will continue to be central to our strategy in the coming years.”
When did the Women’s Six Nations begin?
In 2001. However, the foot and mouth outbreak in Britain and Ireland meant the season could not be completed and the first trophy was awarded to France in 2002. Spain played in the first five Championships, an era dominated by France, before being replaced by Italy in 2007 to mirror the teams in the men’s competition.
Who wins it?
Mostly England. The Red Roses have won more than half of the 19 titles on offer (11), with France next on six. All but one of England’s and France’s title wins came by way of a Grand Slam.
France dominated the early years with three of the first four titles on offer but, after that, the Red Roses took over.
Since the current line-up was adopted in 2007, England have claimed the silverware on eight occasions and are bidding for a hat-trick this year.
For a four-year spell between 2013-16, though, England relinquished their grip on the trophy, enabling Ireland and France to break the monopoly with two titles apiece.
Wales, Scotland and Italy have never won the Women’s Six Nations, but all three have a runners-up finish next to their name, most recently the Azzurre in 2019.
Overall, England have won 87 of their 99 matches played (88 per cent). France are the only other team to have won more than half their games (74 out of 99, for a win percentage of 75 per cent).
What happened in 2020?
England arrive as the current holders and defending Grand Slam champions after they won all five of their matches in the 2020 Championship, scoring 219 points and 34 tries and only conceding 20 points and letting in two tries.
The Red Roses only missed out three possible bonus points to finish on 27 points – more than double their nearest rivals France and Ireland, who were separated by points difference, in second and third, respectively. England, however, were the only team to complete their full set of fixtures.
Italy’s solitary win, in round one in Cardiff, was enough for them to finish in fourth place above Scotland and Wales who both endured winless campaigns.
Who were the stars of the Women’s Six Nations in 2020?
World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year 2019, Emily Scarratt, overtook Katy Daley-Mclean’s England points scoring record in England’s 53-0 win over Scotland at Murrayfield in February. And the Loughborough Lightning centre went on to finish the tournament as top points-scorer on 55 points, having last achieved the feat in 2017.
France’s exciting full-back Jessy Trémoulière had another good campaign with the boot, finishing second to Scarratt with 32 points, but with a better 74 per cent kick success rate, and Laure Sansus also excelled at scrum-half for Les Bleues.
Red Roses duo, Abby Dow and Poppy Cleall, not only scored tries (four apiece) but were prominent in the assists charts, too, while Jade Konkel carried hard and often for Scotland and Alisha Butchers tackled her heart out for a Welsh side that came under sustained pressure.
In the competition for the ball at the breakdown, Italy’s Elisa Giordano had no peers, with the 30-year-old back-row winning seven turnovers.
How is the Women’s Six Nations different this year?
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Women’s Six Nations 2021 will be played in a new and condensed format similar to that of the recent men’s Autumn Nations Cup.
This year sees two pools of three teams face each other once, with the sides from the corresponding positions in each group then meeting on Super Saturday Finals Day.
The winner of the match between the two pool winners will be crowned champions of the Women’s Six Nations 2021.
Defending champions England are in Pool A with Italy and Scotland, while France, Ireland and Wales will contest Pool B.
What are the fixtures?
Saturday, 3 April
England v Scotland, Castle Park, Doncaster, kick-off 15:00
France v Wales, Stade de la Rabine, Vannes, kick-off 20:00
Saturday, 10 April
Italy v England, Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma, kick-off 14:00
Wales v Ireland, Cardiff Arms Park, kick-off 17:00
Saturday, 17 April
Ireland v France, Energia Park, Donnybrook, kick-off 14:15
Scotland v Italy, Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow, kick-off 17:00
Saturday, 24 April
Winner Pool A v Winner Pool B
2nd place Pool A v 2nd place Pool B
3rd place Pool A v 3rd place Pool B
Who are the favourites?
Given their records in previous Championships, you really need to look no further than the historically dominant England and France, to find the likely winner. However, Scotland’s ground-breaking 13-13 draw with Les Bleues in October shows that, on their day, the other teams can lay down a formidable challenge and shake-up the established order.
Wales and Scotland have new coaches at the helm from last year’s competition in Warren Abrahams and Bryan Easson and will be hoping that brings them a change of fortunes, while the new format and the disruption of COVID-19 may also conspire to make the Women’s Six Nations 2021 more unpredictable than expected.
Where can we watch it?
In another Women’s Six Nations first, fans can now watch all nine games in the one place in the UK, Ireland and Italy, with the BBC, RTÉ and Eurosport showing all matches on a mix of terrestrial and digital services.
In the UK, BBC will show England’s final game live on the main BBC network for the first time ever. In addition to this all games will be available on the BBC iPlayer.
In Ireland, all games will be shown on RTÉ, while in Italy all matches can be watched live via the Eurosport Player.
France TV continues its fantastic support of the women’s game by showing all French games on live television.
Sarah Hunter (England) on the pressure of being defending champions: “I think the biggest pressure comes from within ourselves and the standards and expectations we set each other. Not just from a results point of view, but from a performance perspective too. We want to be playing well and putting into practice what we are doing in training and that is a really key focus for us.”
Gaëlle Hermet (France) on the lack of crowds: “Rugby players are used to spectators, that’s part of the game and part of the event. So it’s sad to see the stadium empty but we know that it is due to the situation, but we know the supporters are there behind their screens supporting us. The ultimate goal is to win the Championship and make those people watching happy.”
Manuela Furlan (Italy) on the need for a fast start: “There is a different format and that will mean that you have to perform really well right away. So we will have to produce good performances immediately and for us, that will mean in our first game against England.”
Siwan Lillicrap on new-look Wales: “We are also playing a different brand of rugby than what we have done before, so we will play what is in front of us and an attacking style of rugby, playing into space. I am sure we will hopefully bring it to life this weekend. We are most excited to see how far we have come in the last 12 months and to test ourselves against outstanding opposition in France.”
Ciara Griffin (Ireland) on squad unity: “We’ve been champing at the bit for six months now waiting to play, and we can’t wait to show all the work we’ve done behind the scenes. A lot of work has been done in camps as a group – we’ve had over 20 training camps and over 60 pitch sessions, plus gym and fitness sessions on top of that. We’ve left no stone unturned, and we want to get going now and play some test rugby.”
Rachel Malcolm (Scotland) on her team’s renewed self-belief: “Our mindset has completely shifted now. We used to focus far too much on our opposition, but now we’ve got a huge amount of belief in the squad we’ve built. We go out to every game now with belief and the mindset that we focus on our own performance and do our absolute best for Scotland.”