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What have we learnt from the 2022 TikTok Women's Six Nations so far?

By Lucy Lomax
England's Shaunagh Brown waves to the crowd after England's victory over Wales in the 2022 TikTok Women's Six Nations at Kingsholm, Gloucester.

We have seen over half of the 2022 TikTok Women’s Six Nations fly past, but what have we learnt from the opening three rounds?

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1. Match day attendances
First things first, we have learnt that when women’s rugby is placed around the country, in appropriate stadiums and with the correct marketing and promotion, people show up in their thousands to watch it. Attendance records have tumbled throughout rounds 1, 2 and 3. Firstly in round 1, Scotland saw their home attendance record broken with 3,988 in the crowd at DAM Health Stadium as did Ireland with 6,113 showing up to watch Ireland’s first home fixture against Wales.

In round 2 Wales enjoyed the same result with over 4,875 filling Cardiff Arms Park, a record for a women’s game in Wales and who can forget the crowds France and England have attracted with over 11,000 supporters watching Les Blues defeat Ireland in round 2 in Toulouse and a record 14,689 audience for a standalone Red Roses home fixture cheering England on against Wales at Kingsholm last Saturday.

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In contrast, the measly 1,700 watching Italy’s game against England in Parma shows the direct impact little to no promotion can have on the numbers of bums on seats and the match day atmosphere.

2. If you don’t play regular international Test rugby, your performance suffers

Case and point for this has to be the Italians in this year’s championship with zero wins from three, as if we didn’t need any more evidence after the Black Ferns returned winless from their northern tour in the autumn. If you don’t test your players regularly on the international stage against real life opposition, then other teams will overtake you as has been displayed by Italy’s dismal campaign.

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A team who played with few unforced errors and fluidity during the World Cup qualifiers in September have not played together since, and you can tell. With no Autumn Tests arranged, the Azzurre were barely competitive against France or England in round 1 and 2 (hence the score lines) and were altogether very flat at the weekend against Ireland. Even with the great Beatrice Rigoni and Melissa Bettoni being in-form, the Italians have only scored one try so far this championship.

3. Professionalism talks

As talked about in Charlie Willett’s recent column, the introduction of full time and retainer contracts has had no end of impact on the Wales squad both physically and mentally. Their skills, physicality, fitness and mental approach to the game have all taken a step up from their winless championship last year.

They gave England a real run for their money in the opening quarter of the game at Kingsholm with players such as Kayleigh Powell shining and matching their opposition numbers. However, the gap between three months of professionalism and three years is vast and the Red Roses are still streaks ahead in terms of the way they want to play the game, their cohesiveness, set piece, kicking and pretty much everything else on the pitch.

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4. The benefit of an improved kicking game

The kicking in women’s rugby has not always been of a standard to take up much airtime, with England’s Katy Daly-Mclean, Emily Scarratt and Zoe Harrison plus France’s Pauline Bourdon and Jessy Tremouliere leading the way in recent years.

However, in this year’s tournament despite some room for improvement, we have seen more varied kicking and the tactical advantage it can bring when executed well. Take for example Stacey Flood’s kicking in Ireland’s game against Italy. The sevens player is arguably the best player in the country at the moment with 17 kicks from hand on Sunday turning the Italian backs inside out, having to guess what she would do next.

Scrum-half Kathryn Dane’s box kick also created Eve Higgins’ try of the round just after half-time. We also saw the in-form scrum-half Laure Sansus with a brilliant individual score from a chip over the top of Scotland’s defence for France’s first try of the afternoon at Scotstoun and some delicious touch line conversions and 50:22’s from fly-half Tremouliere.

5. Entertainment factor…still to be decided
As mentioned in Ali Donnelly’s recent tweet, despite the encouraging signs of record match attendances, TikTok coming on board as a title partner and the growing professionalism of teams involved in the tournament, this year’s Six Nations matches have failed to really get the juices flowing, apart from Wales’ comebacks against Ireland and Scotland.

The rest of the games, despite seeing some moments of individual brilliance and some awesome team tries, have been somewhat lacking in standard and competition, with the pièce de résistance undoubtedly the final weekend in Bayonne when England come to France for what is sure to be the Grand Slam decider.

Overall, the game and the tournament is moving forwards and hopefully the remaining matches will conjure up some increasingly thrilling rugby.

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