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Why are England so far ahead of the rest?

By Kat Merchant
Leanne Infante celebrates as England score a try against Scotland in the TikTok Women's Six Nations. Getty Images.

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The results so far in this year’s Women’s Six Nations have shown just how far ahead England are. Whilst it doesn’t seem great for the competition with such disparity in standards- it is hugely important in pushing other nations to raise their game.

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Previously England have been criticised for being the only professional team but gradually other countries are realising they need to invest too or risk falling even further behind, which can only be a positive for the women’s game moving forward. This is reflected in other nations now giving playing contracts- with the latest being Italy after a huge defeat against England in round two.

Aside from the obvious of being professional for the longest- England’s success runs much deeper than that and I’m going to highlight the areas which give them the edge.

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Strength in depth

No matter who is injured there is a like for like replacement. We have seen this with scrum-half Claudia MacDonald being out of action and the young Lucy Packer and experienced Natasha Hunt slotting in seamlessly as well as Leanne Infante. This strength in depth reflects in their performances.

We only have to look at the Black Ferns games back in Autumn where England dominated both matches whilst missing the likes of Emily Scaratt and Infante.

Everyone wants to be part of the World Cup squad so every game of the Six Nations is like a trial game. There will be four or five big name players that would make most World Cup squads who won’t be taken with England due to the competition, so each player has a point to prove.

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Versatility

You just have to look at the England pack to see how versatile they are. When you have props like Sarah Bern who run in 40 metre tries you know coaches are going to have selection headaches.

One of England’s best players Poppy Cleall can play second row, six or eight and is world class at all of them.

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Maud Muir a young talent can play loosehead or tighthead and has even been known to pack down at hooker, which is almost unheard of internationally.

Having forwards breaking the line isn’t a new concept and we have seen it from all the nations in the Six Nations, but England’s point of difference is their front five’s varied skillset and ability to offload in the wide channels. The ball is kept alive and makes defenders have to work so much harder- which inevitably leads to gaps in the defence for England to exploit.

The players are also super conditioned- they are big, powerful units but can shift gears- you only have to look at former sevens player Alex Matthews and the try she scored against Wales in round three. She plays back-row in 15s but looked as quick as a wing out wide.

Not letting the forwards claim all the versatility points, the backs also have their fair share of players that cover multiple positions- Ellie Kildunne, Abby Dow and Sarah McKenna are all dangerous ball players and decision makers, who can switch in at full back or on the wing, as well as Helena Rowland and Holly Aitchison who have both played in the centre. This allows the best 15 to be picked on the pitch rather than the best in that position.

Finishers

England are blessed with out and out finishers. Wingers Jess Breach, Lydia Thompson and Dow (who unfortunately broke her leg during the clash against Wales) are up there with the best finishers in the world. Give them an inch of space and they will take it. Having these players out wide with the midfield able to throw accurate, flat passes cause defences real problems to have to cover such width.

The territory battle

As if the above wasn’t enough, England also have a wealth of kickers. Zoe Harrison was class against Wales with her length of kick repeatedly pinning Wales into their own 22. Her ability to nail conversions from the touchline allow England to play with real width and mean that scoring in the corner can still result in seven points.

However, Harrison isn’t England’s only kicking option, with Scarratt, Amber Reed and Rowland all having a great tactical kicking skillset.

Relentless

This is a word I use a lot in commentary when describing England. Unlike France, who so far in the tournament have not looked full strength, England go out to every game with the same mentality. They are world beaters whether they are on a run of 20 consecutive wins or two.

Scotland defended really well and Italy made over 200 tackles against England but the relentlessness in the Red Roses’ mindset for 80 minutes shone through. They’ll continue scoring tries until the clock goes red.

Big hits aren’t celebrated- they are expected. 20 metre passes from the likes of Scarratt and Rowland are the norm, casually flung to a wing flying on at pace.

For me the France game will show exactly where England are at. I struggle to see anything other than a Grand Slam for England, but France are a decent team with a high skillset across the team.

In summary, England are setting the standards and it’s a beautiful thing to see other nations sitting up and taking notice. It’s also been amazing to see record breaking crowds in stadiums as a result, none more so than this weekend’s match as England play Ireland at Leicester’s Mattioli Woods Welford Road Stadium, which could attract a world record attendance.

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