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'It’s important to stay present and think about the small steps needed to improve women’s rugby'

BARNET, ENGLAND - JANUARY 13: Rosie Galligan of Saracens during the Allianz Premiership Women's Rugby at StoneX Stadium on January 13, 2024 in Barnet, England. (Photo by Eddie Keogh/Getty Images)

The elephant in the room has finally been spoken about! It’s official. The inaugural women’s Lion Tour is set to be played in New Zealand in 2027. From the World Cup in 2022, to hosting the first WXV, New Zealand have sealed the deal and will be history makers again.

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As with the men’s Lions, the women’s Lions team will consist of players from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. It gives players the opportunity to represent at the highest level surrounded by what is deemed ‘the best players in the world’. This should be really exciting for players like Sam Monaghan (Gloucester-Hartpury and Ireland lock) and Jasmine Joyce (Bristol Bears and Welsh winger) who are incredibly talented players for club, but don’t always get the results or accolades with international rugby. I’d like to think that many of the Red Roses would be involved in the team too – the quality and talent we possess currently is incredible.

But with this exciting news, I also think it’s important that we stay present and think about the small steps which are needed to improve women’s rugby in the short term. which are needed to improve women’s rugby in the short term. I believe the next big step is making the PWR professional.

This involves more opportunities for players to be full-time athletes, increased exposure through sponsorship and commercial opportunities as well as enhancing the standards and provisions available to us as people and players. By doing this, the standard of rugby will be enhanced and the sport will become a more attractive product and game to all.

Focusing on the rugby, for us as a Saracens squad, we’ve been building over the last few weeks. We had a great win against fourth-place Bristol just before Christmas and we started to see elements of our game come together. Since coming back in the New Year, we have put our heads down and are committed to reaching our full potential.

Last Saturday, we played Exeter in a top-of-the-table clash at Stone X Stadium. The game is always extremely physical, full of personal vendettas and a big club rivalry. It’s usually the team who has prepared best tactically comes out on top on the day.

Exeter had the upper hand in the first half. Although we went into halftime ahead, we knew that we needed to win the physical battle in the second half to come out on top. We had to stop their ball carriers at source and change the momentum back in our favour. We started to play more direct and pulled the trigger when we needed to. We also capitalised on their mistakes and turned these into points – moments like this are massive in tight games.

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I read a few things after the game questioning why we allowed them to get a losing bonus point, but people forget that we don’t try to do that. It’s something that we try and control but unfortunately, one penalty can lead to something that gives people an opportunity. For us going forward to face Gloucester-Hartpury this weekend, we’re definitely trying to make sure that we manage the game properly. Choosing the right option can be the difference between winning or losing a game, so we will make sure we have full clarity this weekend.

Every point counts in this first part of the season. It definitely is not won in the first half, but it puts us in a good position to secure top four and fight for a home semi-final. We want to leave for the international break knowing that we have put our all into the shirt and put ourselves in the best spot we can. That journey continues against Gloucester-Hartpury on Saturday at Kingsholm.

I’m really excited to play at Kingsholm again. The last time I played there for Saracens was in the final a couple of years ago against Harlequins where we lost. I’d like to go back there and right some wrongs. It’s a high-quality pitch that allows for fast, free-flowing rugby to be played.

There are massive individual battles on the pitch to look forward to. You’ve got the likes of Poppy Cleall against Alex Matthews, May Campbell against Kelsey Jones or Neve Jones, and Sydney Gregson vs Tatyana Heard. It’s going to be a great game and one that is going to be a great spectacle for women’s rugby.

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Although I am focused on the next few weeks and representing Saracens, I am also looking forward to the upcoming Six Nations campaign. Having missed out on Six Nations last year due to injury, I have a fire in my belly to get a white shirt back on and run out at Twickenham. We are meeting up at the end of January for our first camp.

It will be really exciting to get back together and start looking at ourselves as a Red Roses team again. John Mitchell is fully in place now as head coach and we’ve had so much communication as a wider group. It feels like there’s a real excitement about going into camp this time around.

Everyone seems to be a lot more aware of what their role is and what they’re doing and it feels like we have so much more support from the coaching group but also from the nutrition, strength and conditioning, and psychology side as well. We’re in a really good place as a Red Roses team and I can’t wait to see what we can achieve.

Mitch’s influence has already been massive. Pretty much every weekend a coach is at a game, so we’ve probably seen the coaches more in the last couple of months than we had done prior to that. The coaches have been assigned players to work with. Louis Deacon is in communication with the front five so I speak to him quite a lot.

He comes into Sarries and we go through our individual development plans and a few clips from the game to talk about what he wants to see going forward. There is definitely more of a direct line, and Mitch is one of those people that you feel comfortable enough to pick up the phone. I feel like I’ve developed a nice relationship with him where I can speak quite openly and transparently. That’s so important when you are in a competitive environment to be able to have that open rapport and understand the wants and needs of being in the Red Roses team.

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Poorfour 4 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.

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