Select Edition

Northern Northern
Southern Southern
Global Global
NZ NZ

Going Global with the Glow Ups: Resolutions for the International Women’s Game

By Claire Thomas
XV_APR Red Roses (1)-min

A fortnight ago, this column considered ways Premiership Women’s Rugby should be looking to push on and get better still in 2024. Some of your suggestions and responses were fantastic, and it felt only right we do the same for the international side of things.

ADVERTISEMENT

Just as is the case with the PWR – test match women’s rugby has never been in ruder health, but it’s certainly not perfect yet. Let’s be honest: it won’t ever be. We’ll never reach the Platonic ideal of the global game, but we can definitely hope that the year ends having seen hard-fought, lovingly-covered, and widely-enjoyed contests.

Here’s how that might look…

The Six Nations. As with the Premiership, competitiveness is the name of the game here. It’s going to be a long time until we have six sides genuinely vying for the title, but what we can hope for in 2024 is visible progression from each country.

It was tough to watch Ireland at points last year, as Nichola Fryday’s tears and subsequent retirement from the international game proved a tiny snapshot of a wider cultural and systemic malaise. Cut to WXV 3, when a beaming Sam Monaghan and Edel McMahon hurled themselves almost as high into the darkened Dubai skies as they had just done the trophy, and there was a cautious sense of hope.

Under new Head Coach Scott Bemand and National Teams Programme Manager Elaine Ryan, it’d be amazing to see Ireland look better-equipped to battle this Six Nations – after scoring just three tries in five outings last year. They don’t need to pull up trees or even necessarily take a scalp – just show cohesion and assuredness, and take games to opponents that bit more, without needing to parachute in any of their SVNS superstars (who, side note, I hope have a barnstorming Olympic debut).

You know who they could bring in? Cliodhna Moloney. Imagine looking up at 50 minutes to see her coming on to replace Neve Jones, or visa versa. You’d simply throw in the towel; they’re both bona fide forces of nature.

Italy managed just the one win in the 2023 edition – at home, against a wooden spoon-destined Ireland – and travelled terribly (this isn’t new: they’ve lost seven of their last ten on the road). Since, they’ve gone undefeated in a hotly-contested WXV 2 – with bonus point wins over Japan, the USA, and South Africa – and a handful of their athletes are gaining invaluable experience in the PWR.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sara Seye, Sofia Rolfi, Beatrice Rigoni, Sara Tounesi, and Silvia Turani are all playing their club rugby in the world’s best domestic league – so here’s hoping they translate the benefits of that into Azzurri jerseys – and Italy make those improvements felt away to Ireland, France, and Wales.

Scotland: this column’s favourites, and a side who’re perfectly-poised to push on from that jubilant WXV 2 victory. They’re increasingly three critical things – professionalised, efficient, and winners – and this is a genuinely exciting time for Bryan Easson’s programme. Not only have their mainstays rediscovered how it feels to get over the line in tight matches, but this should be a real coming-of-age tournament for some of their brightest, most thistly tyros.

Elis Martin, Fran McGhie, Meryl Smith, Eva Donaldson, Beth Blacklock, Fi McIntosh, and Elliann Clarke are all adorned with top tier credentials now – WXV medals round their necks, and regular PWR appearances beneath their belts – and feel very much here to stay.

They’ve brutal fixtures this Six Nations – hosting England and France – but will be targeting at least one victory away from home, and then performances they can be proud of against the tournament’s titans.

ADVERTISEMENT

Wales have spent the better part of two years discovering how vast the gap has become between the best four sides in the world and the chasing pack. They took the contracts leap, and the gains are resplendent for all to see – not least in that trio of bonus point victories last year – but there’s still plenty of ground to make up, and it’s time to change the complexion of those other two results.

They suffered a cumulative 98 – 17 dismantling by the Roses and Les Bleues – not managing a try against the former, nor scoring a point for 52 minutes against the latter – and notching those sorts of markers is non-negotiable this year. Those, plus cementing Lleucu George at fly half.

France are looking for 80 minutes of both flair and robustness: to strive to jouez jouez, but be perfectly capable of winning ugly, too. They want to regularly produce the aggression we saw in that second half at Twickenham, plus the relentlessness they used to defend the Black Ferns into the ground in Wellington, and – with the crop of startlingly-talented athletes emerging – they’re building towards that beautifully.

This year, for the French, it’s all about round five. The pinnacle of Les Bleues’ entire 2024 might just be two hours on April 27th, as they kick off against the world number ones, England in Bordeaux. Win that, and tout est magnifique.

John Mitchell has set out his stall: there’s a gap between the Red Roses and the rest of the world, and he likes it that way. ‘This team is very good,’ he told the BBC’s Rugby Union Weekly, ‘but it can become phenomenal.’ And the idea of a home World Cup arriving in 2025 is one that excites him, as he explained in his interview to World Rugby.

If a full complement of table points, a goal difference of +223, a world record crowd at the home of English Rugby, and the capping of some prodigious talents is something he reckons can be improved upon – then that’s tantalising. We’re here with baited breath.

Coverage-wise, it’d be wonderful to see the women’s tournament push the boat out a little – and not follow the look and feel of the men’s. We had a pretty radical launch in 2023 – remember the ball pit and all the purple neon? – it’d be exhilarating viewing if broadcasters milked those personalities and that access for all they’re worth.

In-game interviews? Player mics? Mobile studio locations? Greater variety of guest line-ups? Commentary cameos mid-match? The excellent ‘Recharged’ magazine show’s got to make a return, and you’d hope as much channel space as possible is being etched out for games – so that they’re easy as pie to find, whether you’re a women’s rugby newbie or lifelong fan.

Speaking of accessibility and visibility… WXV. Maybe it’s too complicated a format. Perhaps the finer details aren’t being communicated to us clearly or frequently enough. It’s possible I’m just dim. You could argue it’s all of the above… Whatever the conclusion, it’s got to be feel exciting and accessible – and we need to know, pronto, who’s involved and where it’s actually happening.

Last year, with a Men’s World Cup taking place at the same time, the competition was given a soft launch – so 2024 feels the perfect time to harden things up a little. If the inaugural WXV was trumpeted in by a plastic kazoo, the second edition deserves a marching band.

I, personally, would like to feel like like I’m being slapped around the face by all three tournaments – so that the global game is in a better and more prominent place as the end of the year rolls around, and we start talking in earnest about the World Cup.

The World Cup. Let’s ensure there’s a genuine buzz around it as 2025 dawns. As this is published, it’s less than 600 days until England host the biggest event in the sport. In twelve months’ time, it’ll be closer to 200.

Related

All the ingredients are there for the best one yet, and it both merits and requires unprecedented, tangible hype – so that we’re catching a wave, rather than generating one, as the first ball is kicked at the Stadium of Light before 49,000 spectators.

Recruitment has been underway for event-specific roles – social media leads, presentation and ceremonies directors, graphic designers, and city managers – so there’s a considerable task force being assembled. They’ve a busy 18 months ahead. Come to think of it: we all do.

 

ADVERTISEMENT

Join free

Chasing The Sun | Series 1 Episode 1

Fresh Starts | Episode 1 | Will Skelton

ABBIE WARD: A BUMP IN THE ROAD

Aotearoa Rugby Podcast | Episode 9

James Cook | The Big Jim Show | Full Episode

New Zealand victorious in TENSE final | Cathay/HSBC Sevens Day Three Men's Highlights

New Zealand crowned BACK-TO-BACK champions | Cathay/HSBC Sevens Day Three Women's Highlights

Japan Rugby League One | Bravelupus v Steelers | Full Match Replay

Trending on RugbyPass

Comments

Join free and tell us what you really think!

Sign up for free
ADVERTISEMENT

Latest Features

Comments on RugbyPass

P
Poorfour 11 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

18 Go to comments
FEATURE
FEATURE Charlie Cale may be the answer to Joe Schmidt's back-row prayers Charlie Cale may be the answer to Joe Schmidt's back-row prayers
Search