With its new standalone slot in April, the Women’s Six Nations 2021 provided a shop window for the players involved like no other before.
But who put their hands up and gave us an early taste of the skills we can potentially look forward to at the delayed Rugby World Cup 2021 in New Zealand next year?
We begin with England and two players who played key roles in the Red Roses’ successful title defence. Both are nominees for Player of the Championship alongside another of our standout players, France’s Caroline Boujard.
Poppy Cleall (England)
It takes a special player to keep Red Roses legend Sarah Hunter out of the team and the number eight made a telling impact in her two starts and one replacement appearance.
The Saracens star took the player of the match accolade against Scotland in round one and never looked back, carrying more times from the back of the pack than any other player, making an average of five metres every time she set off on a charge.
A player for the big occasion, Cleall secured England their third consecutive title with the only try of the final against France.
Zoe Aldcroft (England)
One of only two players along with Helena Rowland to play in every minute of England’s Championship-winning campaign, Aldcroft was a key part of England’s relentless back row.
The Gloucester-Hartpury loose forward capped a fine tournament with a player of the match award in the final against France, tackling herself to a standstill as Les Bleues threw everything they had at the reigning champions. Indeed, no player made more successful tackles in the Championship than Aldcroft, whose tally of 42 was only matched by Wales’ Georgia Evans.
The 24-year-old made plenty of hard yards with the ball in hand, too, carrying 33 times into the heavy traffic in the wins against Scotland, Italy and latterly France.
Caroline Boujard (France)
It took the 27-year-old 16 tests to get her first five international tries but Montpellier’s Boujard matched that tally in two games in this year’s Championship.
The French flyer underlined her credentials as one of the best finishers in the game with a 14-minute hat-trick – the joint-fastest in Women’s Six Nations history – in the 53-0 win against Wales before adding a brace against Ireland in Dublin.
Even though she drew a blank in the final, Boujard still made several incursions into English territory and was responsible for the second-most runs and carries for her team.
Emilie Boulard (France)
It is impossible to mention one member of France’s exciting back-three without a hat tip to the others – Emilie Boulard and Cyrielle Banet, who both bagged a couple of tries apiece. While Banet has been known to rugby followers for some time, Boulard enjoyed a stunning debut Women’s Six Nations with her ability to run from deep the catalyst for many a Les Bleues’ attack. Still only 21, Boulard has an exciting future ahead of her.
Manuela Furlan (Italy)
Italy’s captain put in some vintage performances to prove she still has what it takes to lead from the front. Furlan scored Italy’s first-ever hat-trick in the Women’s Six Nations – against Scotland – and covered more ground (319 metres) than any other player in the Championship, averaging over 10 metres for each of her 30 carries, despite playing out on the wing rather than in her customary position at full-back in two of her three appearances.
Emma Wassell (Scotland)
A mainstay of the Scotland second row since making her debut in 2014, Wassell arguably took her game to even greater heights over the past month.
In a Championship where many lineouts struggled, Scotland could always rely on Wassell to secure good ball and she was always a willing ball carrier and tackler whenever the opportunity arose.
Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe (Ireland)
A two-try salvo on her first test start in the third-place play-off win against Italy suggests there is plenty more to come from the Tipperary flyer.
Presented with a gap in the Italian defence, Murphy Crowe put on the after-burners and then stepped off her right foot to glide to the line for her first. From just outside the Azzurre 22, her second looked equally effortless as she sped down the right touchline without a hand laid on her.
Lisa Neumann (Wales)
With Wales on the back foot for much of the campaign, the winger had few opportunities to translate her good club form for Sale Sharks in the Premier 15s onto the Women’s Six Nations arena. However, she showed in the fifth-place play-off against Scotland how deadly she can be if given half a chance. Collecting the ball just inside the Scotland 22, Neumann put on the after-burners to slip one tackle, while tight to the touchline and then powered through another to score Wales’ first try of the campaign.