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Womens Rugby

Women’s rugby commentary: there is no better time for a paradigm shift

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Photo by Jan Kruger - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Imagesges

8.7 million rugby fans tuned into Scotland deservedly beating England at Twickenham for the first time in 38 years on Saturday. Little did they know, there was another upset playing out in Devon as Exeter Chiefs Women secured their fourth win on the bounce, seeing off Harlequins in a nail-biting battle. A modest 1600 viewers tuned in to the game, which boasted a number of future England stars giving Simon Middleton something to think about in preparation for his Six Nations and World Cup campaigns. 2021 could be the year for women’s rugby.

Born into a rugby mad family, I grew up watching my dad play at Old Albanians RFC. As he edged closer to retirement, he stayed on the pitch at half time to give me and my brother some high catches and a chance to practice our passing and kicking. After the game, you would either find me drinking the dregs of beer on the tables or singing the club song, sat on the bar. It was a male rich environment. More often than not, the only women in the clubhouse the whole weekend were either running the bar, cooking the food, or picking the kids up.

Times have changed. Not only is there a place for women’s rugby in the clubhouse, there is a place for women’s rugby across the world. I am proud to say that I am a fan of women’s rugby, a convert; the views of yesteryear are outdated. Even better, recent successes have proved that women’s rugby is firmly on the map and is here to stay.

Increasingly inspired by the impact many are having in promoting rugby to demographics that otherwise may not have had an opportunity to play (see Vitality Grassroots Sportswomen of the Year 2020, Zainab Alema, for example) it is also great to see the likes of Maggie Alphonsi, Nolli Waterman and Kat Merchant on our screens as pundits. There is great hope for the future generations of Red Roses.

There has, however, been one reoccurring theme throughout the increasing exposure that has greatly stunted the game’s growth – the commentary.

I have been fortunate to see, first-hand, the dedication and commitment made by players at Premier 15s and International level. There is nothing lesser about what these athletes put themselves through to achieve their goals in comparison to the men’s game. In fact, there is a whole lot more as the large majority have to balance full-time jobs, studying for degrees or in some examples, leading the nations efforts in combating COVID-19. These rugby players deserve far more respect, at all levels.

Yet, whilst watching and listening to the matches, comments regarding the sport are unappreciative and condescending. Even worse, these comments are echoed through the fan base. Despite the highly qualified pundits providing their expert insight, this shift must happen now, if the followership is going to continue to grow as it should.

Whilst we have been fortunate to have a steady stream of rugby to watch over the winter months, the Allianz Premier 15s games tend to have a similar issue.

Exeter have caused two huge upsets, and in doing so inflicting Saracens’ first loss since October 2018 last week. In a game that looked like it could come down to the wire, Saracens unleashed England International Poppy Cleall from the bench. In a pivotal moment in the game when Saracens had the upper hand and momentum, they were awarded penalty advantage and a ‘free play’. Cleall, typically a second row or back row forward, kicked the ball away in anticipation of being awarded the subsequent penalty. Commentary followed, ‘we’ll let her off that one’. Holly Aitchison missed touch, Exeter were on the front foot and the game shifted into their hands. Should Cleall have been let off? Or had she kicked the game away?

As we wait for the Red Roses to play their Six Nations Competition in April – out of the shadows of the men’s tournament – last Autumn, 1.5 million viewers tuned in to watch the scintillating two-match series between England and France. One game displayed a dominant England side become top on the world rankings followed by an astonishing comeback against a passionate French team at the Home of Rugby a week later.

There was also a defining moment during the Red Rose’s Grand Slam Six Nations win against Italy last season. Thirty-three minutes in, England were dominating. With penalty advantage, inside centre Amber Reed broke through the Italian defence on the attacking 22m line and offloaded to scrum-half Claudia MacDonald, only for the opportunity to go begging. Clearly devastated, MacDonald trudged back, hands on head.

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The commentary that followed completely under-valued the sport. “She’s smiling, that’s alright” and “She knows she had the advantage, so it’s fine”. No. It was a clear error. I am sure the first person to say she should have done better, is the England half-back herself.

Echo a similar situation in men’s rugby. Those that watched the Six Nations this weekend saw two fly-halves get a slating for missing two rather large opportunities. With Billy Burns missing touch in the final play of Wales vs Ireland and ruining a last gasp chance to steal the game, and Owen Farrell neglecting a 4 man overlap by kicking the ball down Stuart Hogg’s throat, it seems that in the women’s game the commentary is far more forgiving. This should not be the case, particularly whilst the most passionate women’s rugby advocates are pushing hard for equality. The sympathetic commentary should be reserved for the parents on the sidelines of the grassroots level; the future Red Roses who play on a Sunday morning at their local club.

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A missed tackle whilst watching the Red Roses would be met with a comment like ‘that was a good effort to try make that tackle’. It happens more often than not. A similar scenario in the men’s game would draw some deep analysis of what that missed tackle means for the team. As a consequence, the supporters deem these belittling comments acceptable and they are echoed throughout the rugby circles.

Another comparison worth making is one we often hear regarding the styles of play – northern vs southern hemisphere – but the commentary style is noticeably different too. We should learn from some of the Farah Palmer Cup commentary. There is a great deal more conviction and passion, no differentiation between what you’d see and hear in a Mitre 10 Cup game. Even better, you won’t find many negative comments regarding the competition in their resident country either. A coincidence? Perhaps not.

Now, with the buildup to the busy calendar of rugby in 2021, our Red Roses deserve greater appreciation. There is no better place to start than with the Premier 15s and the way we, from fans to commentators alike, observe and articulate our views on the analysis of the game.

If the women’s game is to be taken seriously, then the players cannot be treated differently. Now more than ever, that has to begin with how we make comment about it.

6 Nations

Women’s Six Nations 2022 schedule revealed

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Photo by Jan Kruger - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Imagesges

  • All matches to be shown in the UK, Ireland and Italy
  • The Women’s Six Nations remains in its own dedicated window in the calendar in March and April
  • The introduction of ‘Super Saturday’ on April 30 is set to become a key highlight of the women’s rugby calendar

Fans are set to enjoy a greatly enhanced Women’s Six Nations in 2022 thanks to a massive increase in coverage on broadcast networks in the UK, Ireland and Italy and a confirmed stand-alone slot in the calendar.

The 2022 Championship will see all 15 matches broadcast on BBC in the UK, RTÉ and Virgin Media in Ireland and Sky Italia for the Italian market. Details for France will be communicated in due course.

Matches will be shown on a mix of terrestrial and Player services with broadcasters across territories significantly increasing their commitment to the women’s game.

Changes to the Women’s Six Nations window in 2021 proved a major success with high viewing figures and increased digital engagement indicating confirming that a new slot in the calendar can play a significant role in driving the growth of the women’s game.

The 2022 matches will also be played in a six-week window in late March and April, breaking the traditional link to the men’s calendar.

Women's Six Nations fixtures

Scotland will open the Championship against 2021 champions England at DAM Health Stadium on 26th March, while Ireland will take on Wales at the RDS Arena on the same day.

Round 2 will take place on 2nd and 3rd April with Wales hosting Scotland at the Cardiff Arms Park while Ireland will travel to France on Saturday 2nd April. Meanwhile, England will travel to Italy for their game on Sunday 3rd April.

The third round will see England host Wales on Saturday 9th April with the other two matches taking place on Sunday 10th April when Scotland will host France and Italy will travel to Cork.

After a break weekend, Round 4 will start on Friday 22nd April in Cardiff with Wales v France. Italy v Scotland will be on Saturday 23rd and England will host Ireland on Sunday 24th April.

The Championship will end with a Super Saturday as Wales v Italy, Ireland v Scotland and France v England take place on the same day.

Six Nations CEO Ben Morel commented: “Increased visibility is key for the growth of the women’s game. We are delighted to have enhanced broadcast partnerships in place along with a continuation of the dedicated window from which we saw such success last year.

“These two key developments along with continued investment in many other areas including performance, commercial and marketing will enhance the Women’s Six Nations for fans and players alike.”

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Autumn Nations Cup

World Rugby approves birth right amendment for players to transfer unions

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  • New process can benefit players and the global competitiveness of rugby
  • Fairness and integrity key principles that underpin the framework
  • Approval follows extensive discussion and collaboration across the game
  • Revised Regulation will apply from 1 January 2022

The World Rugby Council has approved an amendment to the sport’s regulations governing national team representation that will now permit an international player to transfer once from one union to another subject to demonstrating a close and credible link to that union via birth right.

From 1 January, 2022, in order to transfer from one union to another under the revised Regulation 8 (eligibility), a player will need to achieve the below criteria:

  • The player must stand-down from international rugby for 36 months
  • The player must either be born in the country to which they wish to transfer or have a parent or grandparent born in that country
  • Under the revised Regulation 8 criteria, a player may only change union once and each case will be subject to approval by the World Rugby Regulations Committee to preserve integrity

After 1 January 2022, any player who meets the above criteria can apply immediately for a transfer.

The Regulation 8 revisions will also align the “age of majority” across 15s and sevens. All players will now be ‘captured’ at 18 years of age to simplify the Regulation and improve union understanding and compliance.

Approval of the amended regulation follows requests by emerging nations and a subsequent wide-ranging consultation process with member unions, regions and International Rugby Players examining the possibility of amending the principle within Regulation that stipulates that a player may only represent one union at international level, save for specific circumstances relating to participation in the Olympic Games.

The benefits of the amendment include:

  • Simplicity and alignment: transfers are currently permitted in the context of participation in the Olympics in the sevens game. This amendment will create one aligned, simplified process across the game
  • Development of emerging nations: the player depth of emerging nations may be improved by permitting players, who have close and credible links to the “emerging union” through birth or ancestry, to “return” to those unions having previously represented another union
  • Player-focused approach: the process recognised the modern rugby environment, including global player movement, the current ability to capture players by selecting them on the bench, and the desire of some players to transfer having been selected a limited number of times for one union. It also examined the impact of any change on the integrity of the international competition landscape.

World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “Approval of this landmark regulatory change is the culmination of detailed and widespread modelling and consultation across the game. We have listened to our membership and players and sought to update the regulation recognising the modern professional rugby environment without compromising the integrity of the international game.

“Any player who wishes to transfer will need to have a close and credible link to their new union, namely birth right or parent or grandparent birth right while meeting strong criteria, including a 36-month stand down period. We believe that this is the fairest way to implement progressive change that puts players first while also having the potential to support a growing, increasingly competitive international men’s and women’s game.”

World Rugby Vice-Chairman Bernard Laporte added: “We have listened to our membership and honoured our pledge to undertake wide-ranging review of this important regulation. We have consulted, sought feedback from our unions, regions and most importantly to players’ representatives, before making a recommendation to the Council. This change to how international rugby operates will provide transformational opportunities to players with dual backgrounds, providing they meet the key criteria sets out in the Regulation 8.”

International Rugby Players CEO, Omar Hassanein said:“The proposal to change the rules around player eligibility is something that we have worked on over many years with our member associations. Many players across the world will now benefit from the chance to represent the country of their or their ancestors’ birth, serving as a real boost to the competitiveness of emerging nations, which in turn, will benefit the game as a whole.” 

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Womens Rugby

Ciara Griffin Announces Decision To Retire From International Rugby

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Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Ireland Captain Ciara Griffin will retire from international rugby following Saturday’s Autumn Test against Japan at the RDS.

Griffin, who has captained Ireland since 2018, will win her 41st cap this weekend.

The 27-year-old has been a totemic figure for Ireland in the back row, demonstrating outstanding leadership qualities through her on-field performances and, off the pitch, in inspiring a new generation of players.

A natural leader, Griffin’s passion for the green jersey has been evident since her Test debut against Wales in the 2016 Women’s Six Nations, and since then the Kerry native has become a standard bearer on and off the field, driving others around her and producing some memorable performances for Ireland.

Commenting on her decision, Griffin said: “It has been a childhood dream come true to play for my country. Being afforded the opportunity to captain the National Team has been the highest honour. It has been an incredible journey filled with many highs and lows and I am very grateful for all the life skills I have developed through my involvement in High Performance sport.

“It is a decision I have not come to lightly and after discussing it with my family ahead of the Autumn Tests, it is now time for me to turn my focus to my life outside of rugby and begin a new chapter. I would like to thank everyone for their unwavering support, and I look forward to supporting the team going forward.”

Ireland Head Coach, Adam Griggs, commented: “Ciara stood out to me right from our first training session as a genuine leader and someone that players respect and listen to. She wears her heart on her sleeve and it is that leadership style along with her passion and dedication to making people and the team better that has always been so effective.

“Ciara has led the way with her standards and what it takes to be a first class international, and I know in doing this has inspired so many young players to take up rugby and try to emulate her own journey. Irish Rugby will miss her, and we wish her all the best in retirement and the next chapter of her life.”

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