The Women’s Six Nations returns this weekend, promising to deliver a bumper five weeks of action, drama, and high-quality rugby once again.
Returning to its traditional format after 2021’s abridged tournament and a handful of cancellations in 2020’s edition, 2022 may well be the most eagerly anticipated Championship yet with the World Cup edging ever closer.
Here’s a snippet of who and what to watch out for from each of the six teams:
Where to begin with the side which has dominated this competition and indeed women’s rugby for several years now.
Victors in the last three Six Nations, winning every game along the way, they obliterated New Zealand twice, Canada and USA in the recent autumn series further enhancing their moniker as the best side in the world.
They have comfortably topped almost every significant category during the last few Six Nations and are once again red-hot favourites.
There are a litany of stars we could highlight from this current Red Roses crop both established and new, but the big news is the return of the Scaz.
Player of the tournament in 2020, Emily Scarratt suffered a leg break back in September which required surgery but having returned to club action last month she makes her return to the England fold.
Scarratt amassed 94 points in eight appearances across the last two Six Nations tournaments, as many as the next three highest points scorers combined in that time (counting just one of the three players tied on 30 points).
Simon Middleton’s squad is set to be heavily rotated through the early stages of the tournament but expect to see that running total significantly added to.
France are once again set to provide the biggest threat to England’s title credentials.
Runners-up in the past three tournaments after their Grand Slam in 2018, they will be buoyed by their own successful autumn in which they also twice comfortably put away the Black Ferns.
France possess an incredibly potent crop of outside backs who between them have topped the try-scoring charts in three of the last four tournaments either joint or outright – Jessy Trémoulière (5) in 2018, Cyrielle Banet (4) in 2020 and Caroline Boujard (5) in 2021 – all of whom are named in this year’s squad.
Banet’s tally of six tries in just 396 minutes on the pitch across the past two tournaments is by far the best strike rate of any player with over 160 minutes of action, followed by Boujard.
During that period French players have almost managed more supported breaks than any other team, with a clear focus on their ‘cheat lines’, something their opponents will have to look out for.
A new dawn for the Irish women’s team after what has been a particularly difficult period for them, culminating in missing out on a place at the Rugby World Cup.
There has been much movement both on a playing and staffing level, with Greg McWilliams installed as their new Head Coach and Nichola Fryday taking over as captain.
With now the time to move on there is plenty to get excited about, not least with one of the sports emerging superstars in Beibhinn Parsons.
The Galway Flyer has lit up the Six Nations stage over the past few years, sitting top for defenders beaten (30) and metres made (482), and second for clean breaks (10) in six games between 2020-2021. Having just turned 20 the sky is the limit.
Over on the other wing, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe will look to provide equal firepower having excelled on the 7s circuit. Across the 2020 Olympics and the last two World Sevens Series combined she ranked in the top three for tries scored, metres made and clean breaks.
A clean slate and plenty of clean breaks are the offing for the Irish.
Following a second successive fourth-placed finish for Le Azzure in last year’s tournament, they successfully navigated September’s European Qualification Tournament to book a place in the World Cup.
Italy will look to build on that in this year’s Six Nations and will see the tournament as a great opportunity to gain further depth and experience ahead of the showpiece event.
In captain Manuela Furlan they possess the 2021 Six Nations top metre maker, and the first Italian to score a hat-trick in the tournament’s history in last year’s 41-20 win over Scotland.
If they are to experience a positive tournament they will also have to rely on their defensive efforts, having won the most jackal turnovers over the last two years, with 27 shared between 15 players.
Last month’s crushing 52-3 defeat of Colombia saw Scotland grab the final World Cup Qualifying spot, whilst also giving them some much-needed confidence and preparation time ahead of the Six Nations.
Having won just one game across the last three tournaments they will be desperate to improve on that record.
The return of Jade Konkel will provide them with massive go forward after she sat out the 2021 edition to continue her firefighting career.
In the 2020 Six Nations, the No. 8 made an eye-watering 77 carries despite playing just three games, with 19 of those being dominant carries, numbers that put her behind only Poppy Cleall in both of those categories across the last two years despite playing only half a tournament.
In midfield, Helen Nelson made 36 carries in the 2021 tournament, the most of any back and the third most overall. She also recorded the second-best goal-kicking success rate (82%, 9 for 11, behind Pauline Bourdon’s 86%), whilst across the last two tournaments, Hannah Smith sits joint top for successful offloads with 12. Her rate of three per 80 minutes is the highest of any player with 80+ minutes played.
Last but certainly not least are Wales, who enter this year’s competition off the back of two winless campaigns but having recently awarded their first-ever set of professional contracts.
Jaz Joyce is the highlight of their squad and indeed one of the stars of the entire tournament. Expect her to provide regular fireworks from the wing.
Much like Italy, they may have to rely on their efforts on the other side of the ball to win them good ball to build a platform from.
Over the past two Six Nations Wales have won the most tackle turnovers of any side, with Hannah Jones winning more than twice as many as any other player, a statistic which may prove crucial if they are to wrestle their way back into the winner’s circle.
Enough of the talking, now time for some action, this Women’s Six Nations is not to be missed.
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