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Alex Matthews' 'best yet' prediction on England and the Six Nations

By PA
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

England flanker Alex Matthews has predicted the best Six Nations yet as the women’s game becomes more increasingly professional. The Red Roses have dominated recent editions of the TikTok Women’s Six Nations, winning the title five times in six years and completing the Grand Slam on four occasions, with the majority of England players having been professional since 2019.

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England narrowly lost the World Cup final to hosts New Zealand in November, with Matthews saying the post-tournament review was all about going forward. “What can we do to keep growing the gap? All these nations have become professional,” Matthews told the BBC at the launch of this year’s championship in London.

“In a couple of years’ time, this year maybe, they are going to be at the same standard – so how can we keep pushing on and being better? This is going to be the best Six Nations yet with everyone having those opportunities to better themselves.”

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The 2023 Six Nations marks the end of Simon Middleton’s eight-year reign as Red Roses head coach. Middleton oversaw a 30-Test winning run before that World Cup final defeat, but the 57-year-old has decided to step down at the end of a tournament that sees England finish against France in Twickenham on April 29.

“Playing a stand-alone Test at Twickenham is a real marker of where the game is at,” Middleton told englandrugby.com with 35,000 tickets already sold for a potential title decider.

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“The target for the 2025 Rugby World Cup is to sell out Twickenham for the final and it is fantastic to draw such a great crowd two years in advance. Playing this match at the home of England Rugby creates a great occasion for the supporters and I know the players will do their best to make them proud.”

France finished third at the World Cup and pushed England all the way during a 13-7 group defeat in Whangarei. While France have contracts described by players as 75 per cent professional, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Italy have also handed out widespread deals in the past year.

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Wales captain Hannah Jones said: “You go into the matches with a winning mindset, but there is definitely a chance this year. We are looking to build on performances from last year and close that gap. England have picked up a few knocks, we can go looking to be confident.”

The tournament kicks off on March 25 with England hosting Scotland in Newcastle, Wales welcoming Ireland to Cardiff and Italy entertaining France.

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J
Jon 2 hours ago
British & Irish Lions free agent open to Super Rugby switch

There are a couple of teams who could use a stop gap experienced head. Blues - I’m not sure the Blues have signed a replacement for Caleb Tangitau (if he hasn’t been let go to make room for Barrett) yet, or whether Reiko is going on sabbatical and/or will remain in the squad. With exciting young French player Xavi Taele looking destined for higher honors in black, talented breakthrough rookie Cory Evan’s, and a couple of utilities, in AJ Lam and Bryce Heem(even Clarke?), all trying to learn the midfield trade, Williams could be a great aid. The Blues signed key English center Joe Marchant before he was raised to that level, and were possibly in the hunt to bring back the dependable Tele’a from the Highlanders. Possible the main squeeze which would put to bed any signing here would be the battle at 10 with Beauden’s return, and the forcing of Plummer back into the midfield. Hurricanes - Jordie Barrett is off to Leinster for a sabbatical next year but the more likely signing would be Billy’s brother back in the team. The Hurricanes are light on the outside with the loss of Salesi Rayasi to the Top 14 and if no quality is found to back up Kini Naholo, the midfield of Sullivan or Proctors could find themselves on the wing and space for a leader to show the Hurricanes three All Black midfield hopefuls (Higgins, Proctor, Umaga-Jensen) how its done. Highlanders - Rotation is high as usual at the Highlanders and versatility remains a strength with a lot of the squad. With compatriot Rhys Patchell signing a move to the JRLO, the passing of outside back Connor Garden-Bachop, and confirmed departure of Argentine wing Martin Bogado, the versatility of many of the young backups in the squad could see a veteran 12 like Williams being a strong partner for the robust Tele’a. With hope that the other Umaga-Jensen brother can force him out of the starting lineup, and shifting the sides general Sam Gilbert back into 10, the off-contract midfielder might seen as the perfect option for a squad still looking to fill one back spot.

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