The 2024 Six Nations will be different. We will discover how far the recent WXV has effected it.
All six competitors, with the possible exception of France and Wales, came away from their adventures in New Zealand, South Africa and Dubai feeling pleased with themselves. The three tiers were won by England, Scotland and Ireland. They and Italy were the only teams to remain unbeaten.
Above all, these results tell us how vital regular high-intensity competition is. The introduction of WXV is World Rugby’s way of helping other nations to enjoy the same privilege.
Even the Black Ferns fall into that category. To take just one pairing for comparison, the two full- backs in the final WXV clash: Renee Holmes is just two months younger than Ellie Kildunne, but her international career began five years later, and only the qualifiers for WXV allowed her to gain a clutch of caps. Kildunne is within touching distance of 40 caps. The contrast could be seen in their onfield performances.
The Six, one by one
One key issue will be how Wales perform. On the surface three losses in a row look like a big setback for them. But they had the advantage of coming up against the big guns and gaining a psychological advantage in the process. They have three home games to prove themselves.
Contrast Ireland’s experiences. Coming into the lowest tier depressed them, but their three wins (plus other factors like a completely new coaching staff`) gave them a timely boost. They know they had two one-sided games against lesser opposition, but had the satisfaction of pulling through a tight contest with Spain.
It’s a similar story with Scotland. They just missed out on qualifying for the top tier, but then had the pleasure of seeing off all their opponents. The uplift their achievements brought them was unmistakeable..
Italy were the only nation to be fighting for top spot against a team from the same continent. Despite three fine wins, they just lost out. Their prospects look good.
The constant pack leaders, England and France, shared very different experiences.
For the Red Roses this was redemption with a capital R. They carried all before them, finally seeing the Black Ferns off with a commanding display. Now comes the intriguing transition to a new head coach. And we still don’t know if he intends bringing in new assistants; not hard to imagine what most fans think.
For Les Bleues the picture is more clouded. What was the management’s strategy: to use WXV as a stepping-stone to the 2025 World Cup, or to ensure as many victories in New Zealand as possible? I don’t think they planned coming away with a single win, but they did have the huge pleasure of beating the hosts for the first time on Kiwi soil, only to subside to two unpalatable losses.
The unavoidable issue: will the gap between the big guns, England and France, and the other four grow narrower? That is the pious hope of the 6N board and nearly everybody else. But when we recall the Red Roses’ slogan ‘Grow the Gap’, we know that it won’t happen without a struggle. In recent seasons crowds have gone on increasing despite the near certainty of a number of one- sided wins. As for Les Bleues, their eyes are fixed on the starry heavens.
Now a Look at the 6N Fixture Card:
Saturday 23 March, France v Ireland (14.15)
Saturday 23 March, Wales v Scotland (4.45pm, Cardiff Arms Park)
Sunday 24 March, Italy v England (3pm)
Saturday 30 March, Scotland v France (14.15), Hive Stadium, Edinburgh)
Saturday 30 March, England v Wales (16.45), Ashton Gate, Bristol)
Sun 31 March, Ireland v Italy (15,00)
Saturday 13 April, Scotland v England (14.15), Hive Stadium)
Saturday 13 April, Ireland v Wales (16.45)
Sun 14 April, France v Italy (12.30)
Saturday 20 April, England v Ireland (14.15), Twickenham)
Saturday 20 April, Italy v Scotland (16.45)
Sun 21 April, Wales v France (15.15, Cardiff Arms Park)
Saturday 27 April, Wales v Italy (12.15pm, Principality Stadium, Cardiff)
Saturday 27 April, Ireland v Scotland (14.30)
Saturday 27 April, France v England (16.45)
Just a pity the venues can’t be provided on the same day.
R1: Wales v Scotland
This means a juicy clash between the bottom team of WXV1 and the top team of WXV2. How will that work out on the pitch? A shame this fixture couldn’t have been granted the Principality Stadium; that must wait for Round 5.
R2: Ireland v Italy
Last time the Azzurre won 24-7 at home. How far can the Irish turn this round, after their uplift in Dubai? At their best the Azzurre look very impressive. For the Irish much will depend of how the 7s/15s clash is dealt with.
R3: France v Italy
The transalpine fixture always has a special meaning both sides. Le Azzurre have been at their best in some recent encounters, ruffling a lot of plumes in the process. Les Bleues will be intent on proving their losses down under were a temporary upset. The coaches’ selection policy may be evident by then, but at present it’s a guessing-game.
R4: Italy v Scotland
In WXV2 these sides were separated by one try (15-14) and a points difference of two (+55, +53) both in favour of the Scots, so it could hardly be tighter. Last year the Scots lost 22-34 at home, and now they have to travel.
R5: France v England
This year the big game is not only allocated to Super Saturday, but is placed last of all. To say Les Bleues will be all out to take the day hardly begins to describe their intent. It is their turn to host; we await the choice of venue with interest. Two years ago it was Bayonne, about as far from the Channel as you can get, but the rebuilding of the stadium was incomplete. The spectators couldn’t achieve the influence they must have hoped for. Even this far ahead the odds must be firmly on England.
Points of Interest
First the dates: the competition is pushed later into the spring, not starting till late March. We can dream of warmer weather.
Only some of the venues are already known, but they continue the trend towards bigger stadiums.
The first shot in the dark is the RFU’s decision to play the England-Ireland game at HQ. It will be fascinating to see how many tickets they can sell. Then comes the strong likelihood of a second test there, against the Black Ferns, which, with its magnetic power, could have an adverse effect on the Ireland game. That would be most unfortunate.
The WRU are following suit: they have offered the Principality Stadium for the Italy match. This will be the opportunity for the women’s side to show its drawing power at an arena far larger than its traditional home, the neighbouring Arms Park.
England’s one other home match, against Wales, is again scheduled for a west country venue. That will help the visitors to enjoy more support away from home and give ticket-sales a boost.
In 2024 France, Ireland and Wales are the nations to have the advantage of three home games.