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Misguided pile-ons do more harm than good to women's rugby

By Neil Fissler
Jamie George of England applauds fans following the Guinness Six Nations 2024 match between France and England at Groupama Stadium on March 16, 2024 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Dan Mullan - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

In my job, social media is a necessary evil, but the cesspit that is X, formally Twitter, managed to outdo itself this week after photos and video emerged of Jamie George running a lineout session with the Red Roses ahead of their Guinness Women’s Six Nations clash with Wales.

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Suddenly, because of the social media content, it was a staged PR stunt in the minds of some so-called fans and their lapdogs. Honestly, please give your head a wobble. Even this dinosaur newspaper journalist on the wrong side of 50, who is new to the digital media world, knows it is a numbers game.

In November, Kevin Sinfield visited Manchester United’s Carrington training ground to participate in a coaching exchange day, and guess what? There was a story and photos on the football club’s website and a nearly five-minute interview on their YouTube channel.

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England Women’s coach John Mitchell on the Red Roses squad

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England Women’s coach John Mitchell on the Red Roses squad

When Gareth Southgate visited Pennyhill Park to watch an England rugby training session, it was accompanied by photos, stories and interviews on the respective websites and social media channels. So, are they staged PR stunts? Honestly, give me a break.

I’ll put this out there. Jamie George is one of the most honest and thoroughly decent blokes in our sport, and you will be hard-pressed to find anyone in rugby who will have a bad word to say about a man who only lost his mum a few short weeks ago.

Fixture
Womens Six Nations
England Women's
46 - 10
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Wales Women's
All Stats and Data

In such circumstances, he could have been forgiven for shutting himself away on what was probably his day off and coming to terms with the fact the person who brought him into the world was taken from him far too early.

Instead, he drove around the biggest car park in the world, the M25, to impart knowledge to players who seemed to be drinking in everything one of the best players in his position had to say. And it wasn’t the first time he had done it. I’m told he has worked with the Saracens women’s team from time to time.

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England coach John Mitchell certainly didn’t think it was a PR stunt: “I worked with Jamie before. He is a good human being. He’s one of the lads I enjoyed when I was in the environment and have remained close to since.”

Hardly PR guff, is it?

The evangelists – and that is exactly what they are – who seek to wage culture wars to push their own distorted agendas are an embarrassment to themselves and the sport they are seeking to promote, and they do far more damage than good.

They should focus on growing the women’s game rather than putting down the men’s game. Comparing men’s and women’s sports creates division and brings out the very worst in social media: pile-ons, misogyny, and a whole myriad of putrid nonsense.

I’ll be completely honest. I struggle with the Women’s Six Nations. As much as I try, I cannot get into watching one-sided beatdowns. But it was the same when New Zealand and France were putting nearly 100 points on teams in the men’s game. It does nothing for me.

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Before I’m cancelled or become the subject of a pile-on, I have no moral obligation to like or watch it. There are some women’s sports that I am all over. I love boxing, particularly women’s boxing where the best fight the best.

Jamie George
Jamie George (right) with England women’s head coach John Mitchell at training this week (Photo from RFU/Emma Ralph)

Sandy Ryan’s fight with Terri Harper was the one I was most looking forward to on last weekend’s Matchroom card, for instance, and I have already booked the curry for Jessica McCaskill vs Lauren Price next month.

Women’s sport has many, many advantages over men’s sport. It’s more family-friendly, priced to attract families, less tribal and you will be less likely to be wearing someone’s pint because they have been throwing as much overpriced alcohol as they can for hours.

Embrace what your sport is good at and cut out the petty nonsense because you aren’t doing rugby or society any favours.

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