'It's a big thing for women's rugby' - Rachael Burford on Six Nations, live TV and Fantasy XV
The Women’s Six Nations gets started this weekend, which for me means an Easter weekend trip up to Doncaster to work at the England versus Scotland game. I’m over the moon to see the commitment to the women’s game for this tournament, with all games available to watch online, England’s final match being broadcast on BBC Two and none of the kick-off times overlapping. These may sound like small victories, but it’s a big thing for women’s rugby.
In other exciting news, for the first time ever you can now select a fantasy team for the Women’s Six Nations. This is something I called for in a previous RugbyPass column and I’m so pleased that it has been introduced. It’s a great way to build excitement and momentum in the game, with fans having to watch all games to see how their players perform.
It also makes women’s rugby a talking point for young fans. When I have run Girls Rugby Club training camps before, I can’t believe how much young people love to be on their phones – but I say this in as positive a way as I can, without wanting to sound too old.
They are capable of watching a game of rugby on the television, hold a conversation and do something on their phone. Now women’s rugby has a place on their phone, as the fantasy team gives them a whole new way to engage with the sport. In my mind, that can only be a good thing.
Next week, when we start the camps again, we will be asking the girls to get their phones out and pick their fantasy squads. We will have our own league going, which means we might have over 300 girls all engaging with women’s rugby on a new level during the training camps.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 30, 2021
It allows grassroots teams to be competitive but also to learn from the game too. Women and girls should watch as much women’s rugby as they can – and the fantasy league really encourages that. We have been pretty busy at Harlequins discussing our fantasy teams too.
We had a league for the men’s Six Nations, although Sarah Beckett (who organised the league) kept forgetting to remind us. Hopefully, we might be better at keeping up with the league this time as we are more connected with the game.
One thing that fans might not realise though is how much these ratings will mean to the players. There has already been chat among the women, wondering who is going to be the highest and lowest-ranked player – plus who makes it into our teams. It has certainly brought out a whole new level of competition, as we decide which of our teammates will make it into our squads.
I won’t give my Fantasy XV away just yet because I want to win, but here are ten players that you should consider for your XV:
1. EMILY SCARRATT (England)
She is a fan favourite for good reason and will be the first pick for many. I doubt there will be many people who choose a different player for the No13 shirt.
2. JESS BREACH (England)
She is a try-scoring machine who will pick up points like there is no tomorrow.
3. POPPY CLEALL (England)
An incredibly skilful, clever and powerful player who will make a huge impact in a Fantasy XV.
4. CYRIELLE BANET (France)
A powerful weapon on the pitch against any opposition, she is a smart player who often comes off her wing to look for work. She is really strong in the contact area and will pick up many points in the fantasy league.
'In primary school it was fine. I played football with the boys & rugby, I was in their team, but when it got to secondary that is when I did get called names for it' @zoeharrison123 talks to @heagneyl ??? about bullying, kicking & having the last laugh https://t.co/LKF95HE0KF
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 28, 2021
5. AMY COKAYNE (England)
A sensational player for Harlequins and will undoubtedly shine in this year’s tournament.
6. CLAIRE MOLLOY (Ireland)
The Irish back-rower a wealth of experience to the team and is one of the best to play against. She has one of the highest successful tackle rates in the championship and is someone anyone would want in their team.
7. LINDSAY PEAT (Ireland)
She recently joined us on the live version of Women’s Rugby Pod and told the audience about her brilliant journey into women’s rugby. She is a character who I would seriously consider for a Fantasy XV.
8. SENE NAOUPU (Ireland)
My colleague at International Rugby Players Association deserves a place in a fantasy team. She is an absolute workhorse and does a lot of the unseen work – clearing rucks and making tackles. She will get a lot of scores on the fantasy league tally.
9. GIADA FRANCO (Italy)
The flanker has made a huge impact in the Italy squad and played a part in their recent success. She will stand out during this year’s tournament.
10. JESSY TREMOULIERE (France)
The full-back is a dynamic, successful player who always provides a challenge. She is one of the best-known French players and stands out on the pitch.
That is all I am sharing. I might change my mind once the tournament starts, but I certainly don’t want to show my cards this early or flatter my teammates too much. I also want to talk about how the matches will be televised.
All games being shown is fantastic, especially as they are on BBC iPlayer which means you can watch from wherever you are as long as you have a phone signal or Wi-Fi. You will also only need one screen, as all kick-off times are staggered nicely – no more having to find another screen to watch an overlapping game on.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 1, 2021
Sara Orchard and Natasha Hunt are doing the comms for England versus Scotland Six Nations opener and I have been over the moon with the reaction to a piece I wrote recently about the commentary in women’s rugby. I was so worried about calling out the problem as I saw it: that the level of co-commentary in the women’s game was not as high quality as it could be.
But that piece led to many players getting in touch about improving their commentary and getting involved in more media work. Seasoned broadcaster Sam Roberts led a webinar about co-comms, explaining everything that players might not know about commentating so they arrive at games prepared to commentate.
In total, 98 Premier 15s players showed up, including many international players and women from every Premier 15s side. For me, actions speak louder than words, so I was hugely pleased to be able to not just sit back and criticise but to be part of the movement to collectively improve co-commentary in the women’s game.
As a result of the webinar, many have gone on to get work in co-comms. I handed the RFU a list of attendees so they are aware who has had training, but straight away Shaunagh Brown got to work with BT Sport at London Irish vs Bath last weekend. She thoroughly prepared and did a fantastic job – a shining example for other players.
We now have a number of players who are skilled, understand the level of skill that is required and are now training and looking for opportunities to develop and better themselves. Lots of them are ready to go on co-commentary with the highly skilled commentators who work in the women’s game. This Six Nations tournament feels like a real turning point – and I can’t wait to get up to Doncaster this weekend to see it get started with England facing Scotland.
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We were lucky enough to have Mike Phillips join the podcast this week as he discussed the Lions Tour, Wales Rugby and Warren Gatland!
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