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A Match a Day keeps Boredom at Bay – What a Weekend!

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Perhaps you can remember when the three games of one Six Nations round were last allotted to a different day. I can’t.

Hard to know which order to place the ingredients in. On offer:

3 days, 3 matches,
Emily Scarratt’s 100th cap
Leanne Riley’s 50th cap
A record crowd for an English stand-alone international (we expect)
The 28th anniversary to the day of England’s first World Cup win.
A hoped-for 23rd consecutive victory, equalling England’s record from the 1990s

First, the 3-day festival

It has the huge advantage of giving prominence to each game in succession; otherwise the emphasis tends to fall on only one game in three. The timings aren’t so clever. The 8pm start in Cardiff militated against family involvement. ‘Sorry, daddy, but I really think I ought to be in bed by then’. Parma’s game too starts late, but Italy hasn’t yet caught the tide of growing attendances. The Red Roses start at noon, leaving spectators to decide where and how to digest a Sunday meal.

Scarratt on home territory

In these days of English plenty it’s easy to forget how vital Emily Scarratt’s presence has been to ensure victory in tight games. Forget the 2014 World Cup Final, as recently as 2019 she had to pull England through too many times for comfort.

In the Super series in Chula Vista she played a crucial role in ensuring two 2-point victories over Canada and France; against the Black Ferns, the last time England lost, she scored all her team’s points.

Before Abby Dow’s sad leg injury in the Wales match, we had a similar concern in the first game of the current season at the Stoop. How were we to know that a broken leg for Emily Scarratt would allow her to complete her hundredth cap in her home county on her ‘home’ ground, Welford Road?

A strange twist of fortune.

An Infante half-century

Straight after the 2017 World Cup the make-up of the England squad changed shape: four great players retired, Nolli Waterman, Rocky Clark, Kay Wilson and Izzy Noel-Smith. A central question was: who would claim the No 9 shirt? Then as now there was competition: La Toya Mason, Mo Hunt and Leanne Riley, with Bianca Blackburn as an outside bet. I’m glad I suggested Riley as the likeliest candidate; she had committed herself to 15s after dabbling very young in the Hong Kong Sevens.

At Leicester she reaches her 50th cap. To my mind she is the leading No 9 in the world, though on current form she is receiving urgent competition from Laure Sansus.

A record crowd

One of the biggest talking-points of the current season is the growth in attendances. The Six Nations committee deserves huge credit for the steps it has taken to achieve this heartening growth. Leicester Tigers couldn’t possibly allow the Cherry-and-Whites of Gloucester to walk off with a new record without putting up some real competition.

A first World Cup win

Proper attention is to be given to the heroes of England’s first RWC win in 1994. And there has been only one more since then. High time for a third?

A hoped-for 23rd consecutive victory, equalling England’s record from the 1990s

It’s a great pity that the Red Roses could not be taking on the full force of the Girls in Green in Leicester. But that’a matter for detailing elsewhere.

Just to add that, contrary to suggestions from some respected quarters, this will NOT be England’s strongest XV of the series trotting out at the start. No Poppy Cleall!