The Women’s Six Nations tournament kicked off at the weekend. England, the world champions, beat Scotland, while defending champions Ireland and 2015 runners-up France also had convincing wins over Wales and Italy respectively. Eleanore Kelly fills in the details
It was a stomping start for Sarah Hunter’s keen but green England side on a damp and wintery evening at Glasgow’s Broadwood stadium. After a disappointing fourth-place finish in the 2015 Six Nations Championship, which Hunter refers to as a ”development and transition year”, the 2014 World Cup winners proved that lessons had been learnt after some brilliant individual and team performances led to a 32-0 victory over Scotland.
Hunter explained before the match that the objective was to use last year as a “learning curve, but we now need to start putting some results in”.
Scotland showed great improvement. Captain Lisa Martin had vowed pre-match that her team were prepared “to go to war”, and indeed they fought to the bitter end. Unfortunately for them, England looked by far the stronger and fitter side.
Player of the match went to Harriet Millar-Mills, who scored two of England’s five tries either side of half-time. Speaking straight after the match the 24 year old said: “It’s amazing. I don’t know what to say; it’s the end of the game and I’m knackered. I’ve never got player of the match before.”
Millar-Mills, who is studying to be a maths teacher, first made the headlines in the 2013 Six Nations when she lined up against her sister Bridget, who was in the Scotland squad. She credits both her sister and brother as huge influences on her rugby career. Aside from her love of rugby, she is a Manchester United fan and cites Paul Scholes as one of her greatest sporting heroes.
Lucy Demaine made a dream debut, coming on as a substitute and taking advantage of a Scottish blip to score the final try. The 23-year-old trainee doctor from Haverfordwest posted on Twitter: “First cap and first try … a night to remember. Good hard fought win against Scotland. You cannot underestimate how good the Scots can be at home, so a great win.”
Scotland are still looking for their first Six Nations victory since 2010, and a first win over England since 1999. With a new coach in Shade Munro, and a plucky new captain in Martin, the team looked a technically and tactically improved side. Martin credits Munro for making the difference. “He has massive experience coming from Glasgow Warriors and the successes they’ve had there. And it’s just bringing that belief and confidence through. He believes in every one of us as rugby players and knows that we can do great things. We’ve just got to believe in ourselves. We want to be the team that, in a way, people relish playing, but at the same time they expect a battle.”
The captains of all six nations stressed the significance of the tournament in the women’s game. According to Martin: “You’re challenging yourself against some of the world’s best.” England’s Hunter said: “It’s the most competitive tournament that I’ve ever known. You look at the results from last year when Italy beat France and Wales beat England. You just don’t know where the result is going to go, which is hugely significant for the women’s game and for this tournament. I think it’s really hard to pick out who is going to end up lifting the trophy.”
In the other matches on the opening weekend, last year’s champions Ireland scored a convincing 21-3 win over Wales at home in Donnybrook, despite Wales taking an early lead with a penalty. Captain Niamh Briggs led a cohesive squad of “older, experienced players and some new faces”. The policewoman from Limerick admitted to the Irish Independent that she slept with the cup after winning last year’s title.
Revenge was sweet for France, who beat Italy 39-0 after suffering a 17-12 defeat a year ago. The French team, under the captaincy of Gaelle Mignot, looked convincing, but the pressure is on as they turn their focus towards a significant game against Ireland on Saturday night.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eleanore Kelly is a multi-media journalist who competed in three-day eventing at elite level. She runs an equestrian business in Hampshire and still has a burning ambition to compete around Badminton. At present her role as an assistant producer for the BBC has to suffice. Eleanore’s latest articles.