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Ireland watch on as delayed Six Nations gets under way

Griggs’ side targeting two pool wins to get a crack at reigning champions and hot favourites England

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Beibhinn Parsons in action for Ireland. Photo: Sportsfile

Beibhinn Parsons in action for Ireland. Photo: Sportsfile

Beibhinn Parsons in action for Ireland. Photo: Sportsfile

Delayed and curtailed, the Women’s Six Nations finally gets under way at Castle Park in Doncaster today, as England welcome Scotland. Later, France play host to Wales at the Stade de la Rabines in Vannes. Ireland and Italy train on and tune in, eager to get going next weekend.

After years in the shadows of the men’s tournament, the championship finally has its own window. Sure, there’s European Champions Cup on this weekend and next, but that’s behind the BT paywall. Organisers will hope the free-to-air element of this event will penetrate the public consciousness.

With limited weekends to work with, they decided to make it a four-week tournament and split the six teams into two pots of three.

It’s far from perfect, but after a severely disrupted year, the players are just eager to play again. An April tournament should provide conditions for good rugby and, if it works, it could be here to stay with a full fixture list from here on in.

The competition takes place amidst the back-drop of a delayed World Cup and a new global annual tournament, which kicks off in 2023. 

It feels like a pivotal moment for the game in this neck of the woods.

 

How will it work?

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Organisers have split the tournament into two pools of three. Champions and favourites England are in with Scotland and Italy, while Ireland face Wales and France.

Over the next three weeks, they’ll play their pool rivals once and then the top two from each pool will play a final on April 24. The second teams will play each other, while the third will do likewise.

It’s similar to the men’s Autumn Nations Cup if you can remember that. 

 

Why is it so short?

This was supposed to be a World Cup year and half of the teams involved were expecting to be facing World Cup qualifiers in the months after the Six Nations.

Already operating under the constraints of the pandemic, Six Nations opted for the reduced format on a one-off basis and when the World Cup was postponed by a year due to Covid-19 they didn’t change tack.

 

How can I watch?

RTÉ will show all of the matches in this year’s tournament, with Ireland’s three games being broadcast on RTÉ 2 and the rest on the RTÉ Player. 

Unfortunately, like everything else right now, Ireland’s match against France at Donnybrook’s Energia Park will take place behind closed doors.

 

Why Donnybrook?

Some fans wondered why the matches weren’t moved to the Aviva Stadium considering the men aren’t playing. This doesn’t appear to have come under consideration at IRFU level. When asked about the idea, the union said that Energia Park is the women’s team’s home ground and they are comfortable with the setting and the facilities. 

One wonders if the players would take the chance to play at the national stadium like their male counterparts if offered the chance. Opening the stadium is an expensive business, however, and perhaps the current financial situation played a role in the decision.

 

How are Ireland preparing?

Ireland’s win over Italy was their only game in a year. None of their home-based players have been able to play club rugby, apart from a few weeks last autumn, so there’s a serious lack of game-time in the set-up.

Coach Adam Griggs has held as many as 20 training camps for his players, they’ve played two full-blooded in-house matches and they’ve been doing everything they can to replicate match intensity.

Six of the squad are based in England and playing in the Premier XVs competition, so they’ll be match-hardened for the big kick-off. England aside, all the teams are in the same boat.

 

So, England are the favourites?

The only full-time professional set-up in the tournament, the champions have a scary blend of talent and experience. They beat France twice in the autumn and their players are all playing regularly.

They are 51-point favourites against Scotland this weekend and should have more than enough for Italy. With a weekend off before the final against France, Wales or Ireland, they’ll take some stopping.

 

What about Ireland?

It’s been a tough couple of years since the home World Cup in 2017 went so badly wrong, but there are signs of improvement under Griggs in recent times and with the sevens contingent fully committed and Claire Molloy back on board, the Kiwi has a strong side to choose from.

Due to the World Cup postponement, France are prioritising the Tokyo Olympics and are without a number of key sevens players like Romane Menager. 

Wales, who have former Ireland lock Sophie Spence in their backroom team, will be tough away from home, but Ireland will fancy their chances and have a decent record against the French in Dublin.

Two wins and a crack off England would be a decent result.

 

Who should I look out for?

The returning Molloy is a warrior and 20-year-old power-house Dorothy Wall is a real find. Front-rows Linda Djougang and Cliodhna Molony can provide front-foot ball for an exciting backline which includes sevens star Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe and teenage sensation Beibhinn Parsons.

2021 Women's Six Nations fixtures

Today
Pool A: England v Scotland, 3.0
Pool B: France v Wales, 8.0
Saturday, April 10
Pool A: Italy v England, 1.0
Pool B: Wales v Ireland, 5.0
Saturday, April 17
Pool A: Scotland v Italy, 5.0
Pool B: Ireland v France, 2.15
Saturday, April 24
Finals day: First place Pool A v First place Pool B, second v second and third v third.
(Ireland games broadcast on RTÉ 2, all other games available on the RTÉ Player)


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