The three Quilter autumn internationals announced by the RFU show another new trend. the two continental members of the Six Nations are the chosen opposition, Italy to be played once, France twice, away then home.
One traditional autumn option, the Super Series involving Canada and the USA, was overtaken by its retiming and restructuring – it took place in June/July, so wasn’t an alternative.
You could view this programme as another indication of the growing split in the make-up of the 6N; the Celtic nations don’t appear here. No doubt the 6N committee is giving serious thought to possible developments in its treasured championship. It is vital that the other members, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, are helped to grow in strength and player-base.
But at present the trends are working against this move. Part of England’s growing power in the world of women’s rugby is the presence of so many leading players from the other constituent parts of the British Isles.
During the current closed season several more players from Ireland, Wales and Scotland have joined Tyrrells clubs. They have no doubt that this will further their careers. The worry is: what happens to the clubs they leave?
The Tyrrells set-up prides itself on being the leading tournament of its kind in the Northern Hemisphere. It has grown to include many players from all over Europe, slightly fewer from the Commonwealth, and many dozens from the three nations that finished in the last three positions in last season’s 6N.
If we look beyond our own local interests, what is best for women’s rugby across the continent? Surely we would all like to see a narrowing of the gap between the ‘elite’ nations, and between them and the second-tier unions.
We don’t need reminding of the quality of French rugby, but it will be interesting to see what advances the Italians can make. They did well to finish second in 6N last season, but they know they need another big push before they can really call themselves the equals of France and England
The new fixtures are significant too for the choices of venue. Little surprise that Sandy Park Exeter has been offered the big game against France. Another new centre, Bedford, will host the Italians. It will be fascinating to see what sort of attendances they can attract. They don’t have the added pizzazz of Six Nations points on offer, but once more they may show up the distinctly modest attendances that London has managed to produce in recent years.
There may not be many seats left over at Goldington Road once the estimated 14,000 Italian Bedfordians have taken up residence in the ground.
London for its pains is overlooked.
Saturday 9 November – France v England
Stade Marcel Michelin, Clermont (ko 13.10 GMT)
Saturday 16 November – Quilter International: England v France
Sandy Park, Exeter (ko 13.10 GMT)
Saturday 23 November – Quilter International: England v Italy
Goldington Road, Bedford (ko 15.00 GMT)