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A Look-back at the Six Nations – Ireland, Scotland Wales

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The gap between England and the five other nations has widened, but the competition for places intensifies.

First, the three Celtic nations. They share much in common: a past neglect by their unions that amounted almost to contempt, a belated reaction, the introduction of the Celtic Challenge, and, in Ireland’s case, a change of management.


With the double target of WXV and the 2025 World Cup, every game took on added importance. In the end Ireland finished the winners of the also-rans, but their margin was slim, a big 36-5 win over Wales proving decisive.

They have won their first entry to the RWC since 2017. One priority must be to improve on that deeply disappointing performance in Dublin seven years ago. At least in a World Cup they can hope to find more victories – so much depends on the draw.

Winning a place in WXV1 tells a different story. Can they learn from Wales’ deflating experience? We now know that three losses against sides placed higher than them in world rankings is not the ideal preparation for another 6N tournament.

Like so many nations Ireland need far more quality matches, but where are they to find them? The general feeling is the Celtic Challenge is no nearer the required standard than the home-grown Interpros and the AIL.

Highly promising young players have been discovered, Aoife Wafer and Katie Corrigan to the fore, while others have continued to advance. But one secret of success is a strong player-pool, and there the IRFU comes face to face with the old conundrum, 7s or 15s? It’s a huge pity that once again the two formats tread on each other’s toes. The Irish 7s squad has an outside chance of an Olympic medal, but the occasional ex-test player declaims: ‘15s must take priority!’ It will be interesting to see how the new Director of Rugby, David Humphreys, views matters. Will he follow his predecessor David Nucifora’s preference for 7s?

It was noticeable in the 6N that several of the squad had co-signed the letter to the IRFU complaining bitterly about their treatment. We still can’t be sure how far Scott Bemand has managed to have his own views accepted, but the return of Cliodhna Moloney was a starting-point of significance.


The Scots missed out on WXV1 by a measly three points, as Ireland triumphed. Sad as that may be for them in the short term, it removes the likelihood of facing three defeats at the hands of nations they have failed to beat in the past. They may stand only one place behind Australia in the rankings, but a match-up could well have proved dispiriting.

Their 6N results: 20-18 away to Wales; 5-15 at home to France; 0-46 at home to England; 17-10 away to Italy and finally 12-15 away to Ireland – represent an encouraging advance. The 10-point margin against France and rare away wins in Cardiff and Parma being especially noteworthy. But both were tight affairs; no question of runaways.

Bryan Easson is slowly managing to introduce younger home-grown talent, not having to rely on English clubs to do the development Scots coaches should be undertaking. Alex Stewart is the prime case in point: a highly promising back-rower, who till now has learned her trade in her native country. The question is: will she be yet another Scot to be snapped up by an English PWR club, or be allowed to remain at home and still reach the top rank?

The Celtic Challenge Competition is expanding again next season, with ten matches on a full home-and-away basis. Despite the optimistic note struck by Gemma Fay, the Head of Women and Girls’ Strategy, only one of the two constituent franchises, Edinburgh Rugby, has come anywhere near dominating proceedings.


Tom Shanklin was one ex-Welsh cap who saw fit to criticise the national women’s side for what he saw as misplaced joy at their tight victory over Italy in round five (22-20). There we have another male lining himself up as a sensitive and balanced head coach of a women’s team.

The outpouring of emotion was almost inevitable after the dire results the team had obtained, seven losses in a row. Admission to WXV1 the previous season had looked like an invitation to the big time; results proved the opposite. The string of defeats raised understandable question marks against the coaching staff. Even now we can’t be sure how a review will turn out for Ioan Cunningham and his assistants.

Yes, they were handicapped by having nearly all their prospective players operating ‘abroad’, that is, on the other side of the Severn. But the presence of so many players from leading clubs in the English PWR (starting with eleven in Gloucester-Hartpury’s unbeaten championship side), left observers wondering why so little was made of the talent available.

There was a palpable weakness out behind – only seven tries, compared with seventeen last year – and as captain, Hannah Jones prefers to lead by example rather than by word. Marlie Packer, Sam Monaghan and Rachel Malcolm prove that both are possible.

Now the squad faces a match against Spain to decide the right to a place in WXV2. That ought to be a banker for them; then they can face an interesting combination of opponents who will broaden their experience and, with any luck, provide the basis for future prosperity.

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