British & Irish Lionesses: Who Makes a Women’s Lions XV?
The 2021 Women’s Six Nations concluded at the end of April with England coming out on top after a tightly contested final against France. In a revamped format of the Championship, the Red Roses secured the title for the third year in a row, a contrast to the six years previous in which they won just once in an uncharacteristic lean period.
With the tournament finishing at the end of April and the British & Irish Lions squad selection set to take place later this week, it had us wondering here at The Analyst, who would make a hypothetical Women’s Lions team on the back of this year’s Championship. Such a notion isn’t far-fetched, the idea has been sounded out already, while a women’s Barbarians team played their first ever games in 2019. It seems the formation of a Women’s Lions team is just a matter of time.
Using the Opta Index – a unique algorithm that takes into account player actions during each match – we selected the best XV from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales based on the 2021 Women’s Six Nations.
Unsurprisingly, the dominance of the Red Roses means almost half of the team is made up of England players, with seven selections in total – four backs and three forwards. Meanwhile No. 8 Poppy Cleall was the top-ranking player overall, the stats backing up her selection as the official Women’s Six Nations Player of the Championship.
To start, we take you through each nation’s highest-ranked player…
England – Poppy Cleall
Cleall was undoubtedly the standout player of this year’s Six Nations with the Saracens No. 8 making more carries than any other player in the tournament (45) despite playing just 163 of a possible 240 minutes. She was active all over the pitch, but the majority of her carries came inside the opposition half, particularly within the opposition 22 where most ball carrying is into heavy traffic. Despite this, she still made 155 metres over the gainline and beat 13 defenders, both tournament highs for a forward, with only Irish flyer Beibhinn Parsons beating more defenders overall.
Even when Cleall was eventually stopped, her offloading ability still meant she was a threat to the opposition, registering a joint-high six offloads in the Championship (level with Safi N’Diaye). One of those offloads assisted an Abigail Dow try against Italy – just five other players assisted a try with an offload. Her ability to pass the ball after contact is made even more impressive in that she attempted just six offloads in total, with each one finding a teammate.
It wasn’t just in attack that Cleall excelled, however. Defensively, the Saracens No. 8 was a rock, completing each of her 20 tackle attempts – only France’s Annaelle Deshayes made more without missing (22/22).
Ireland – Beibhinn Parsons
Beibhinn Parsons burst onto the scene during the 2020 edition of the Women’s Six Nations and swiftly picked up where she left off once Ireland’s tournament got underway. It’s hard not to picture the Irish winger as a nailed-on choice for a potential Lions team and it’s made all the more impressive given she is still only 19 years old.
The Connacht flyer beat 18 defenders during the tournament, five more than the next best player. In total she evaded 50% of the attempted tackles she faced in the tournament – the joint-best tackle evasion rate of any player to face 20 tackles, along with teammate Eimear Considine and England’s Helena Rowland.
Women’s Six Nations – Players to face 20+ tackles:
|Name||Team||Tackle Attempts Faced||Tackles Evaded||Tackle Evasion %|
Last year Parsons recorded the best average gain of any player in the tournament, gaining 12.7 metres per carry – almost four metres per carry more than anyone else (min. 20 carries) and there was a real sense of déjà vu in 2021 as the Irish wing again topped the charts for average gain. In this year’s Championship she averaged 8.4 metres per carry from her 24 carries – the joint best rate of any player to run with the ball on 20+ occasions, level with Emilie Boulard of France. Her peers have reeled her in somewhat this year, but are yet to topple her as the tournament’s most elusive runner.
Scotland – Emma Wassell
Scotland’s top-ranking player of the Women’s Six Nations was Emma Wassell, who got through a mountain of work for her side during the Championship. In total she made 34 carries and 28 tackles, with her combined total of 62 more than any of her teammates.
It wasn’t just the volume of the work she got through that was impressive but how much impact those carries had. The second rower made more dominant carries than any other player during the tournament. That tally accounted for 38% of her overall carries in the Championship and of the 14 forwards to make 20+ carries only Italy’s Elisa Giordano (39%) had a better rate.
|Player||Team||Carries||Dominant Carries||% Dominant|
Wassell was Scotland’s go-to player at the set piece too, securing 13 lineouts for her side during this year’s Women’s Six Nations. Each of those 13 lineout takes came on Scotland’s own throw, with nine being caught cleanly and four being tapped back to her scrum-half.
No player caught more of their team’s lineouts and even including steals only Ireland’s Aoife McDermott (14, including three steals) could surpass the tally of the Scottish lock.
Wales – Hannah Jones
Welsh centre Hannah Jones was arguably the best defender in this year’s Women’s Six Nations, making the most tackles (49) of any player in the Championship in 2021. That’s an incredible feat given that it is usually the forwards who top the hit-list.
Jones also won eight turnovers in just three games during the tournament, three more than anyone else managed at an average of one every 30 minutes. Each of her eight turnovers came from tackle situations, with the 24-year-old often using the touchline as an extra defender before driving her opponent into touch to win possession for her side. And if it wasn’t driving players into touch, it was making shuddering hits to dislodge the ball for her side’s benefit.
She wasn’t just a defensive lynchpin for Wales though, as she also possessed a threat with ball-in-hand. Jones made three line breaks during the Championship, the joint-most for Wales alongside Caitlin Lewis, while she was also one of just eight players to hit double figures for defenders beaten (10) despite making just 18 carries. She also demonstrated her creative abilities by making three break assist passes, no player made more.
The Analyst’s Full Women’s Lions XV:
15 – Eimear Considine evaded 12 of the 24 tackle attempts she faced in the tournament. Her 50% tackle evasion rate was the joint-best of any player to face 20 tackles.
14 – Jess Breach gained 142 metres from her 14 carries – her average gain of 10.1m per carry was the second-best rate of any player to run with the ball on 10+ occasions.
13 – Emily Scarratt was the top point scorer in the Women’s Six Nations (39) kicking 16 goals – more than any other player.
12 – Hannah Jones made the most tackles (49) of any player in the tournament and also won the most turnovers (eight).
11 – Beibhinn Parsons beat the most defenders (18) of any player and had the joint-best average gain of any player to make 20+ carries (8.4m).
10 – Helena Rowland made the most kicks from hand of any player (32) and gained over twice as many metres from those kicks as any other player (886m, next best – 436m)
9 – Leanne Riley was the only player to make 200+ passes (215) and was one of just six players to make multiple try assists (2).
1 – Christine Belisle made the most carries (23) of any prop and beat the second-most defenders (three). Only one front rower beat more (Melissa Bettoni – 5), while she missed just one of her 16 attempted tackles.
2 – Lana Skeldon made the most successful lineout throws of any player (33) as well as the most carries (25) and metres (55) of any front rower.
3 – Shaunagh Brown averaged the most metres per 80 minutes of any prop (21) as well as the second-most tackles per 80 for her position too (13.7).
4 – Zoe Aldcroft was the only player to make more than 30 carries (34) and more than 30 tackles (40) in this year’s tournament.
5 – Emma Wassell made the most dominant carries (13) of any player during the tournament and won the most lineouts of any player on their own team’s throw (13).
6 – Georgia Evans made 29 carries and 48 tackles – her combined tally of 77 carries and tackles was the most of any player.
7- Rachel McLachlan made the third most tackles of any player (42) and had the second-best tackle success rate of the 32 players to attempt 30+ tackles (95%).
8 – Poppy Cleall made the most carries (45) and the joint most offloads (6) of any player, while she gained the most metres (155) and beat the most defenders (13) of any forward.