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2023 women's roundup: History made, records broken, and new eras dawning

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - NOVEMBER 04: England celebrate with the trophy after victory in the WXV1 match between New Zealand Silver Ferns and England at Go Media Stadium Mt Smart on November 04, 2023 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Fiona Goodall - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

As 2023 draws to a close, here are five women’s rugby highlights from the year and what we can look forward to in 2024.

The launch of WXV

History was made in 2023 as the inaugural WXV competition was played across October and November. England were crowned winners of WXV 1 in Auckland, Scotland lifted the WXV 2 trophy in Cape Town, and Ireland came out on top of WXV 3 in Dubai.

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The first year of the competition saw historic wins recorded, rivalries reignited, history written, and all-important international experience gained.

It wasn’t just the competition itself that provided memorable moments. Samoa secured a famous victory over Fiji to qualify for WXV 2, with Cassie Siataga’s nerves of steel winning them the place in the second tier of the new competition and their first-ever Oceania Rugby Women’s Championship title.

New Zealand’s Ruby Tui said: “The competition is really cool because it didn’t just pop up overnight. It’s been a learning process, we’ve always wanted more tests, but it’s not that simple. We have to get all the other unions, all the other countries on the same page…

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“So, now hopefully people will get to know the competition, get to know the players and realise it’s not just World Cup anymore. It’s. Every. Year. We’re playing the best in the world. It’s a super exciting competition.”

Women’s Six Nations 2023

In April, a record-breaking crowd of 58,498 flocked to Twickenham to watch England and France in their Six Nations grand slam decider. The match itself was a thrilling encounter with England narrowly edging the 38-33 win after a spirited second-half comeback from France.

England’s 18th Women’s Six Nations title was won securing their 16th Grand Slam, and a brand new Women’s Six Nations trophy was lifted in front of the crowd as the 2023 competition drew to a close.

French centre Gabrielle Vernier was named Player of The Championship with England’s Marlie Packer and Holly Aitchison, and Wales’ Sisilia Tuipulotu also nominated.

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Rugby bid farewell (as a player) to Sarah Hunter, who bowed out as England’s most-capped player in front of a home crowd at Kingston Park when the Red Roses hosted Scotland in the first round. At the end of the tournament head coach Simon Middleton also moved on to pastures new after leading the team since 2015.

England captaincy was handed over to Packer who went on to finish the tournament as top points scorer (35) with seven tries, and after lifting the WXV trophy in November was named World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year.

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Scotland won two Women’s Six Nations matches back to back for the first time in 17 years and for only the second time since 2010 finished the tournament in the top four.

Sevens Series

The Black Ferns won the 2022/23 Sevens Series with a total of 138 points, two points short of a perfect score. After losing out to Australia in Dubai on the opening weekend, New Zealand pushed on to lift the trophy in all six rounds which followed. Australia came second in Cape Town, Vancouver, and Hong Kong. The USA finished the season in third, earning silver medals in Hamilton and Tou­louse along the way.

The 2023/24 season started with a bang in December as Australia took a fourth consecutive title in Dubai with the Black Ferns getting silver. Next came Cape Town, the last one before the new calendar year, but this time around the Black Ferns didn’t feature in the final to defend their South African title.

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Australia took the title for the second round running beating France, who had knocked out the defending champions in the semi-final.

With Australia now two from two, they head into 2024 with a full complement of 40 points. France, who took bronze in Dubai, are level on points (34) with New Zealand having both earned silver and bronze so far.

New Zealand’s Jorja Miller signed a four-year contract with New Zealand Rugby this year, the longest-ever deal a female rugby player has signed in New Zealand. She was named Rookie of the Year at the Women’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023 Awards.

The Levi sisters have been tearing up the sevens circuit and in May, Maddison was given the Gilbert Top Try Scorer award at the Women’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023 Awards after she scored 57 tries.

The achievement also saw her set a new record for women’s sevens, breaking Portia Woodman-Wickliffe’s all-time record in just her second season on the series. In December, the 21-year-old became the fastest Australian woman to reach 100 tries in the competition.

Tyla Nathan-Wong (New Zealand) was crowned World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year in October after another dominant season for the Black Ferns 7s.

Premiership Women’s Rugby

For the first time in Premier 15s/Premiership Women’s Rugby history, the 2022/23 competition was won by a team outside of London. Not only that, but it was the first time a final hasn’t featured a London side, with Gloucester-Hartpury and Exeter Chiefs battling it out at Kingsholm Stadium, temporarily renamed Queensholm for the occasion. Gloucester-Hartpury took the victory in front of a packed-out crowd and wrote their names into the history books in the process.

The league was rebranded for the 2023/24 season and with it came new faces. Trailfinders Women and Leicester Tigers Women joined the pack, marking both of their first involvement in the top-flight women’s competition.

With the new league a landmark broadcast deal also emerged. TNT Sports and PWR announced the multi-year deal that would see over 20 PWR matches broadcast live over the 2023/24 season, one per round. In addition, outside of UK, Ireland, USA, and Canada, RugbyPass TV committed to showing one match per round worldwide.

The top flight said farewell to DMP Sharks, Wasps Ladies, and most recently Warriors Women, all of which have contributed to the rich history of women’s rugby that we have today. While much of their talent has dispersed across the league, the presence of the three clubs is undeniably missed.

Super Rugby Aupiki

This year’s Super Rugby Aupiki final was a battle between North Island and South Island with Matatu emerging victorious against Chiefs Manawa to claim their first title. Matatu’s title-winning season saw them finish in second place in the regular season before they beat Blues Women in the semi-final (26-23).

Matatu emerged victorious in the Super Rugby Aupiki final, coming from 19 points down to be crowned winners. In the process, they inflicted Chiefs Manawa’s first-ever loss in the competition.

Glorious scenes erupted at full time as Matatu, somewhat the underdog going into the match, celebrated their victory after an incredible comeback. Renee Holmes scored 23 of their 33 points in the final and finished the season as Super Rugby Aupiki’s top points scorer (59).

After a fantastic year for women’s rugby, here are some of the things that we have to look forward to next year:

Paris 2024 Olympics

The big one for next year – Paris 2024. Rugby sevens will feature at the Olympic Games for the third time. It’s honours even for gold medals at present with Australia winning in 2016 and New Zealand winning in Tokyo. France, who earned silver in 2021, will be on home soil and they will no doubt want to go one better this time around.

Twice the bridesmaids, Team GB have fallen short in the bronze medal match at the past two Olympic Games, will this be the year that they win a medal? Australia didn’t feature at all in the top four in Tokyo, will they return to winning ways in Paris? Will another nation claim gold? Only seven months until we find out!

Women’s Six Nations 2024

From 2024, Guinness has taken over the title sponsorship of the women’s Six Nations (previously sponsored by TikTok). If this year’s Six Nations and WXV results for the European contingent were anything to go by, it should be another interesting tournament to look forward to.

The Red Roses will return to Twickenham, this time with Ireland as their opponents on the 21st April 2024 in the fourth round. The Principality Stadium will play host to Wales vs Italy the weekend after in the final round.

In the men’s Six Nations, Scottish referee Hollie Davidson is also set to make history as the first female assistant referee in the men’s competition when England face Wales at Twickenham.

One year out from the World Cup

All roads lead to the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2025. Next year will provide the final full year of preparation before the World Cup, so every match is one closer to the tournament starting. It has been announced that Sunderland’s Stadium of Light will host the opening fixture, featuring England, and all eyes will be on Twickenham for the final on 27th September 2025.

New coaches on the international scene

2024 will be the year we see former England captain Jo Yapp make history by becoming the first woman to be the head coach of an Australian senior national rugby team as she takes over from Jay Tregonning to coach the Wallaroos.

Her appointment earlier this month saw her become the Wallaroos’ first-ever full-time head coach. In addition, it will also be John Mitchell’s first year in charge of the Red Roses.

Ireland head coach Scott Bemand will be looking to build on their WXV 3 victory as they enter their first Six Nations with him at the helm.

It’s all to play for in 2024!

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