To start the piece, just cast your mind back to last weekend and an epic final where New Zealand got off the canvas at half-time to floor England with a dominant second half performance where their skill set won the day. Several sensational tries scored during the final; the video package is a fitting tribute to the Women’s Rugby on show.
Players of the Tournament:
Several players come to mind during the tournament from the top three sides. New Zealand had numerous players of note. Brazier set the tone with several tries in the opening pool games. Portia Woodman was a try scoring machine. England had several standouts throughout the tournament. Emily Scarratt, Sarah Bern, Katy McLean provided sublime moments of skill to allow England to advance to the final. France were the more progressive team of the tournament and the young profile of the squad bodes well. Ladagnous was outstanding and the French expansive game plan when provided with quick ruck ball was a joy to behold. It was a case of what might have being for France in a bruising encounter against England in the last four. The fixture was abrasive and physical. England’s fatigue in the second half of the final can be contributed to this bruising encounter but New Zealand’s skill set was superior. Their mantra is to control the rugby ball, create with the rugby ball. Their cross field kicking in the final was excellent. Natua for me was the tournament standout; a hat-trick in the final. Enough said. Easy decision.
Disappointing Tournament Moment:
Two tournament low points personally. The number of one sided contests in the competition will do little for the sport. Before the semi-finals, it was very much one way traffic in terms of results; form book went along boringly familiar lines. Hong Kong bore the brunt of some devastatingly heavy losses. You would wonder how this side recovers from this experience? They were not the only side to experience a mauling or two but to leak 121 points is another story. The organizers potentially might need to tweak the tournament so that teams are competitively handicapped and have a chance of winning some silverware. Proposal such as creating two pools of six for teams to play at their levels might be the way forward. Three separate competitions run in tandem during the tournament and allow all participating nations a chance of play in a RWC setting.
Pool A: New Zealand, England, France, USA, Canada, Australia (bottom team demoted)
Pool B: Wales, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Japan, Hong Kong, Scotland (top team promoted, bottom team demoted)
Pool C: All Other Emerging Nations (top team promoted)
The scheduling of the fixtures at times was incredibly harsh. England after a bruising encounter with France then had to face New Zealand four days later in the final. The second half performance spoke volumes; England had nothing left to give and despite fighting hard, they were second best.
Ireland’s performance in the tournament has being a talking point since the tournament ended. The loss to France was predictable given shaky performances against Australia and Japan who were supposedly the weak team in Pool C. Ireland were lucky to beat Japan. The host nation support provided a warm welcome to all teams but the home team failed to deliver and a glorious opportunity was missed by Ireland to cement their place at the top of the Women’s Rugby table.
Eighth ranked is an accurate reflection of where the team are. The media hype about the side on reflection and the possibilities of winning the competition were outlandish. The RBS 6N campaign indicated as much and with a back line who failed to fire, a pack who struggled on set piece; preparation was not on point. Tom Tierney has call it quits but Eddy also has questions to answer.
The Ireland side looked extremely under-prepared for the tournament. The lack of cohesion at scrum half was glaring. To throw a rookie in the tournament was shambolic. The front row scrum was indifferent at best. The back row lacked the dynamism to break the game line and lost the breakdown battle. The back line apart from Alison Miller looked extremely second best and one wonders if the right personnel were drafted into the squad.
Ireland Women’s Rugby is on the up; participation rates are soaring. IRFU needs to decide if they want to develop the women’s side of the sport. 2023 RWC bid will dampen any investment injections and perhaps there may be a dip in funding given the performance of the team in this tournament. Several proposals are required; considered development of the sevens game to identify and cultivate creative mindset. The side were bereft of a creative edge; blunt mauling pack tactic was the hallmark.
The domestic club game needs to be examined. Is their an appetite for the Women’s Club league to switch to a Spring / Summer format? Weather conditions suitable for running rugby, creative attacking, superior skill set wins out. The harsh winter element focused game plan needs to be re-evaluated; an alternative game plan is required to complement the pack orientated tactic seen in this tournament. Decisions required.
Game of the Tournament:
Two games come to mind. The final is obvious but I am looking for the semi-final tussle between England and France; a sublime test match where no inch was given. France threw everything at England in that opening period and for issues in the line-out, France could have won the contest. England emerged in the second half with composure and game management. McLean for me was sensational on the day. Her kicking was superb and drove France back. 20-3 does not do the game justice; a superb advert for the sport.
Where Now for Women’s Rugby?
Increased attendances. Increased television coverage and viewership bodes well for the future of the game. There is a chasm in terms of the top three and the rest of the teams. Canada and USA will argue that they are also in this grouping but they were found out when the business end of this tournament took place. The tournament needs to run for longer than the seventeen days this year. It did little for player welfare. Four week tournament is the prerequisite. The decision on various competitions running in tandem during the tournament needs to be explored as a matter of urgency. Little excitement until the semi-final stage. For people to call the tournament as a success on the pitch must not have seen the majority of the pool games. England’s team now go back to amateur status; their professional contracts have terminated, a sad development for the game. Can a global tournament run throughout the calendar year or even more Women’s fixtures to play games before the men’s fixtures? Anything to provide attention to the sport is a good thing.