Some people wondered why the 6N couldn’t be switched back to its normal full-length format. Now that large parts of France and Italy are undergoing yet another lockdown, we can understand why the authorities didn’t change their mind.
So we are left with another two matches this weekend, Italy facing England in Padua and Wales hosting Ireland at the Arms Park. At least this second fixture raises hopes for a tighter result than we saw last week. And competition is what this tournament desperately needs. Fifty-point margins do nobody any good.
The WRU still failing its Women’s Programme
Jess Hayden paints a worrying picture of Welsh women’s rugby as it passes through the pandemic. And she writes from the inside, having played with several current Wales internationals at university level.
The crux of her argument goes back to the never ending problem of player payment. Simply put, Welsh players are remunerated only when they pull on a red jersey. For the rest they are truly amateur, having to fork out to cover their basic needs.
The WRU continues to take a back seat in their welfare, refusing to offer them insurance, just as their clubs do. WRU’s idea of placing its best players in an optimal position is to advise them to cross the Severn Bridge and join an Allianz Premier 15s club. Back at home the structures at club and regional level are inadequate.
It is not as if the Union has no pennies to rattle in its piggy bank; its men’s team are treated as professionals. But the attitude towards the women is that it will wait till they reach a certain standard before considering contracts for them. A true Catch-22 position.
We are back in the age of paying your own way to enjoy the game, familiar to all women who represented their country from the eighties to the noughties and beyond.
One detail remains hard to explain: why did the France-Wales game have to kick off at 8 pm BST (9.00 local time)? The French often prefer an evening start for rugby matches, but did anyone heed the needs of the visiting players? They all had to return to work or study on Monday morning, having caught an 8 o’clock return flight eleven hours after kick-off.
Somebody at WRU ought to be suffering a sense of inadequacy and guilt. Not looking after one’s own national representatives properly is a disgrace.
English Guessing Games
Who’s in your Red Rose team to face Italy in Padua? It’s doubtful if anyone guessed the first round team correctly, and this time it’s no easier to predict.
Simon Middleton and his selection team have a four-match line up: the three rounds of the 6 Nations plus the extra titbit of a crunch against France in Lille at the end of the month.
Their long-term aim of course is the World Cup, now a distant eighteen months away. They have just started working out the possibilities, not only individual choices, but combinations too.
There are 38 players in the 6N squad, including half a dozen youngsters who may well have been invited along to soak up the atmosphere and perform as tackling bags. But it is perfectly possible that one or two may find themselves added to the pinned list.
Priority must be given to the game(s) against les Bleues. (We must assume that the two top-ranked nations among the six will meet in the final round on 24 April). But does that mean giving everyone else a chance against Italy? One of the many problems facing selectors this year is the shortage of playing time at international level. Three games, and the tournament is over. That doesn’t allow all 38 Red Roses to have a fair crack of the whip.
If the policy is to give as many people as possible a start, then a Fifteen against Italy could look like:
15 Kildunne 14 Dow 13 Scarratt 12 Jones 11 Breach 10 Harrison 9 Macdonald 1 Harper 2 Cokayne 3 Brown 4 Millar-Mills 5 O’Donnell 6 Matthews 7 Fleetwood 8 Beckett or Hunter (if fit – or Poppy Cleall? Italy says ‘no, thank you’)
I fear this random choice may turn out to be laughably off track. But at least it shows the difficulties the management have in being fair to the whole squad.
One answer is to fit in as many games as possible over the summer and autumn. But even that is no easy challenge. Potential opponents keep having their travel arrangements tightened and loosened. Trips abroad are likely to remain last-minute hook-ups.
France hit a Hundred
France reached their hundredth 6 Nations match against Wales last week, following England to that mark. Their record: 75 wins, 24 losses and one draw. How they want to break that sequence of losses to the Red Roses! Their performance in Vannes showed them close to their very best, but they must wait till next week before facing Ireland away.