Source: ©INPHO/Bryan Keane

One Game doesn’t make a Tournament

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It’s still early days in the 2023 Six Nations, but already we can see straws in the wind.

The three losing teams from Round One, Ireland, Italy and Scotland, know they have to step up at once to have any chance of completing a worthwhile campaign. But even the winners have displayed shortcomings that need attention.

First, the bad news. Three players have reported injured and unable to appear this weekend. Gwen Crabb’s fate is the worst: she is out for the duration, having only recently recovered from another injury. Both Amber Reed and Poppy Cleall hope to be available before the tournament ends. Reed is another whose playing career has been blighted by injury.


The Red Roses already had an extended injury-list, Simon Middleton including no fewer than four uncapped players in his first-choice 23. The loss of Reed brings further problems to the midfield. Of the more regular occupants, Holly Aitchison has to stay at No 10, where her all-round skills were revealed again. That leaves only Tatyana Heard for a centre position, unless Sarah McKenna comes into consideration again. But the odds may be on Nancy McGillivray, one of the young newcomers who has impressed for Chiefs.

There are alernatives for the No 8 shirt: Sarah Beckett and Alex Matthews (but is she fit enough yet?) are the main contenders. Marlie Packer has played there for Sarries, but England (team and supporters) would far rather see her back in the 7 shirt.

At least all these many absentees help to even out the balance of power in the 6N. England can’t enjoy that thought, but the other five will.


Despite an away win in Parma there were critical voices about the performance of Les Bleues, even of the selections. (It’s hard to believe that Axelle Berthoumieu is really a better player than Gaëlle Hermet).

It’s unfair to pass judgement on players suffering the appalling weather conditions Parma provided, but the new co-coaches may agree changes are needed to their first-choice 15.

Gabrielle Vernier once more stood out among the backs, but she missed the presence of Maëlle Filopon beside her. Once Jessy Trémoulière was allowed to take the field, her strengths at once became apparent.


The Girls in Green have come in for the heaviest criticism after their abject performance in Cardiff. But much of that criticism was deflected towards people higher up the chain: the coaching staff, and above them, almost inevitably, the IRFU itself.

The effect of their absence from the World Cup was all too apparent. In addition, the rejection of contracts by eight players has had a splintering effect on the squad. The less often they can all train together, the less efficient they will be when the whistle goes.

Distinguished past players noted the 10-year anniversary of their great Grand Slam triumph. It is hard to list all the errors and wrong decisions that have followed in its wake, starting with the squad’s embarrassing early exit from the 2017 World Cup in their homeland.

‘Lessons have been learned,’ claimed the senior coach, John McKee. But that implies that faults can be eradicated inside a week; confidence can be restored and the strongest possible side selected.

It’s sad now to check Niamh Briggs’ pre-match opinion. She cited the benefit the tour to Japan brought. She reckoned everyone, players and staff, were way ahead of the same point last year.


‘So near and yet so far’ – we could claim again. They were the hosts in that swamp of a game in central Italy, so criticism must be tempered.

But the ability to alter tactics to match the conditions is one sign of a competent team. They still depend too much on a small number of players to produce the goods. The retirement of Melissa Bettoni put the line-out under stress, and meant less power and cohesion up front.

Out behind Beatrice Rigoni seemed to try too hard. She knows she is a leading light among the backs, but she made a number of early errors that hindered the cause. Veronica Madia was less impressive than in New Zealand, and the backs as a whole need more kicking skills to counter the handicap of a sodden ball.

It’s their fate to face England next, so realistically they must look to the remaining three rounds to stake their claim.


There’s no doubt they are improving in fitness and cohesion. They made England work hard for much of the first half and in the closing moments, but their inability to turn possession and territory into points remains a central weakness.

It’s significant that they have appointed a sports psychologist; their losses are piling up.

The SRU is at last attempting to widen the player-pool, which is a crucial first step towards improvement. The absence of leading players such as Jade Konkel-Roberts and Sarah Bonar affects them far more than it would if Bryan Easson could fill his bench with players equally as good as the starters.

Their home game against Wales will be real tester for them. It’s encouraging that they are full of confidence, but only points bring prizes, and the opposition are distinctly bouncy at the moment.


The Welsh squad are now in precisely the reverse position of ireland. That one win has set them singing and dancing.

Ioan Cunningham sent out a thoroughly strong confident side, missing only Jasmine Joyce to GB 7s, while the Irish were deprived of five likely first choices. I am not the only one who would prefer to see Lleucu George at No 10, but Elinor Snowsill is playing well at present, surrounded as she is by familiar team-mates who know each other’s game well.

The advance of Sisilia Tupulotu was unmissable. She helped reduce the Irish pack to a crumble tart; players who had starred last year now reduced to sticking fingers into dykes to prevent a flood. And Stacey Flood was one of the missing 7s stars.

The smart money must be on a Welsh win in Edinburgh, but either way, the game could turn into one of the most dramatic contests of the tournament.


Saturday 1 April

Ireland v France, Musgrave Park, Cork, KO 15.15
Scotland v Wales, DAM Health Stadium, Edinburgh, KO 17.30

Sunday 2 April

England v Italy, Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton, KO 15.00

All times BST