The Women’s Six Nations will take place in a standalone international window for a second consecutive year in 2022 but with teams playing five matches apiece instead of three, as they did in last year’s condensed format.
The tournament has once again been scheduled separately to the men’s competition after the 2021 COVID 19-enforced experiment to play in April "proved a major success", according to the Six Nations organisers, "with high viewing figures and increased digital engagement indicating that a new slot in the calendar can play a significant role in driving the growth of the women’s game".
As has been the case in recent years, reigning champions England will be the team to beat in 2022. The Red Roses are on an 18-match winning streak and have both the World Rugby Coach the Year and Women’s 15s Player of the Year in their ranks in Simon Middleton and Zoe Aldcroft.
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 20 titles on offer (12), 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 nine occasions and are bidding for a fourth consecutive title in 2022.
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 90 of their 102 matches played (88 per cent). France are the only other team to have won more than half their games (76 out of 102, for a win percentage of 75 per cent).
WHAT HAPPENED IN 2021?
Top seeds England and France won their respective pools at a canter to set up a showdown for the title at the Twickenham Stoop.
The Red Roses launched their bid for a hat-trick of titles with wins against Scotland (52-10) and Italy (67-3(, while France beat Wales (53-0) and Ireland (56-15).
The title decider was an altogether much tighter affair with Poppy Cleall’s try on the stroke of half-time proving to be the difference between the teams in a 10-6 win for England.
Earlier on finals day, two tries from Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe helped Ireland to secure third spot with a 25-5 win against Italy in Dublin, while Scotland condemned Wales to last place with a 27-20 victory in Glasgow.
WHO WERE THE TOP TRY-SCORERS AND TOP POINTS-SCORERS IN 2021?
France’s Caroline Boujard crossed for a tournament-topping five tries, a significant factor in her being nominated for the World Rugby Women’s 15s Player of the Year Award.
Boujard scored a hat-trick in France’s opening win against Wales then dotted down twice more in an equally emphatic win against Ireland to eclipse Italy’s Manuela Forlan, who became the first Italian to score a hat-trick in the Women’s Six Nations in the Azzurre’s win over Scotland.
Meanwhile, England’s record points-scorer, Emily Scarratt, was imperious with the boot as the centre bagged 39 points through 14 conversions, two penalties and a try.
WHAT ARE THE 2022 FIXTURES?
The 2022 competition will be played in a six-week window in late March and April, breaking the traditional link to the men’s calendar although the fixture list virtually mirrors that of the men’s.
Edinburgh Rugby’s new home ground, the DAM Health Stadium, built on Murrayfield’s back pitches, will host the opening fixture on 26 March when Scotland take on England in the lunchtime kick-off. Ireland against Wales follows later that day, while France begin their campaign at home to Italy on Sunday 27 March.
Round 2 begins on 2 April with France against Ireland. Saturday’s other games sees Wales take on Scotland before Italy and England wrap up the weekend in Parma.
Kingsholm in Gloucester is the venue for England’s game against Wales on Saturday 9 April, while the remainder of the round three fixtures are on Sunday with Scotland taking on France and Ireland up against Italy at Musgrave Park.
After a one-week break, Cardiff Arms Park hosts Friday night rugby as Wales play France in the opening match of Round 4 on 22 April, while the next day Italy are at home to Scotland and England entertain Ireland at Welford Road on the Sunday of the penultimate weekend.
In Round 5, Wales enjoy home advantage for the second consecutive weekend as Italy visit Cardiff. Also on 30 April, in Bayonne France meet England in a match between last year’s top two and Ireland play Scotland in Belfast.
Saturday, 26 March
Scotland v England, DAM Health Stadium, Edinburgh, kick-off 12:00
Ireland v Wales, RDS Arena, Dublin, kick-off 16:45
Sunday, 27 March
France v Italy, Stade des Alpes, Grenoble, kick-off 15:00
Saturday 2 April
France v Ireland, Stade Ernest-Wallon, Toulouse, kick-off 14:15
Wales v Scotland, Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff, kick-off 16:45
Sunday 3 April
Italy v England, Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma, kick-off 15:00
Saturday 9 April
England v Wales, Kingsholm Stadium, Gloucester, kick-off 16:45
Sunday 10 April
Scotland v France, Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow, kick-off 13:00
Ireland v Italy, Musgrave Park, Cork, kick-off 17:00
Friday 22 April
Wales v France, Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff, kick-off 20:00
Saturday 23 April
Italy v Scotland, Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma, 19:20
Sunday 24 April
England v Ireland, Mattioli Woods Welford Road Stadium, Leicester, kick-off 12:00
Saturday 30 April
Wales v Italy, Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff, kick-off 12:00
France v England, Stade Jean Dauger, Bayonne, kick-off 14:15
Ireland v Scotland, Kingspan Stadium, Belfast, kick-off 20:00
WHERE WILL MATCHES BE PLAYED?
The 15 matches will be played at 12 different venues with Cardiff Arms Park and Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi the only grounds to be used more than once.
Edinburgh Rugby’s DAM Health Stadium, Leicester Tigers’ Mattioli Woods Welford Road Stadium and Kingsholm Stadium, home to Gloucester Rugby, will host Women’s Six Nations matches for the first time.
England Red Roses head coach Simon Middleton is looking forward to playing their two home games outside of London.
"The history of Leicester Tigers as a club says everything about English rugby union for me," said Middleton. "I’m delighted we have a fixture at Welford Road. The crowd have consistently turned up in massive numbers to support Leicester. They are a hugely knowledgeable and appreciative crowd. It’ll be a great venue to go to. It’s a real bastion of rugby. It’ll also be the largest home ground we’ve played at outside of Twickenham and it would be amazing to get a big crowd.
"Kingsholm offers itself to both English and Welsh supporters. It’s a great venue full stop. The atmosphere at the Allianz Premier 15s final there earlier this year was tremendous. It’s another hotbed with a passionate and vociferous crowd. It’ll be fantastic to get another game into another one of England’s great rugby stadiums and cities.”
WHERE CAN I WATCH IT?
The women’s Six Nations 2022 will see all 15 matches broadcast on BBC in the UK, RTÉ and Virgin Media in Ireland and Sky Italia for the Italian market in a big broadcast coverage boost, while details for France will be released in due course