Having spent seven years dominating the 6Nations, England were overturned by Ireland in 2013 along with a Grand slam to boot. In 2014 France dashed
England’s resurgence winning the title for the first time since 2005 and last year Ireland left it to the very last game to lift the trophy for
a second time in three years.
So what does 2016 bring for the women’s 6Nations? There are a number of external pressures on teams to perform this year, add to this the Olympics
and Team GB looking for form players, a number of new captains and lots of uncapped players, adds more than a “normal” to the 6Nations this year.
Having sat and listened to the captains and chatted with them after the press conference I am going to be bold and predict that this will be the best
tournament to date with a number of countries able to lift the trophy. As well as that I don’t think there will be a Grand Slam this year, there
are too many teams that are capable of upset on any given day.
Here is the team by team preview for the 2016 6Nations:
In the last 9 years France have come second twice and won once (2014). If not for their surprise slip up to Italy last year they could have had a Grand
Slam, but this year they have 3 home games and captain Gaelle Mignot is keen to see this used to their full advantage. She said to me that her
aim is for one better place than last year (to win, having come second to Ireland!). Although the 6Nations is important to her and the team, it
is clear they are building towards next year’s World Cup. There are four new caps in this team that play with a lot of passion and flair as you
would expect from any French team, so anything is possible. On any given day they can win the 6Nations and this year is no exception. If the rest
of the team are as focused and passionate to win this year as their captain then this could be their year.
Gaelle Mignot may be captain but she is certainly one to watch if she hits the form she is capable of. As well as her there are a number of new players
that look very exciting but let’s see how the pressure is for them.
All change in Scotland as they have a new captain (Lisa Martin) and a new Head Coach (Shade Munro) since the last 6Nations campaign. Added to this
there are a number of new players in the squad and things are looking very different for Scotland. The biggest change that seems to have been made
is that Munro has addressed the negative culture and skillset that has been Scotland’s Achilles heel. Shade Munro has addressed the culture head
on so that the negativity of old among players has been replaced with culture of respect and happiness. He wants the players to enjoy themselves
and take pride in playing for their country. This alone will have an impact on who they play and I am keen to see the outworking of this. Lisa
Martin enthused about all the changes when I chatted to her and is looking forward to the massive first game at home to England.
On paper Scotland have been on the receiving end of a whitewash for the last 5 years, but I can see them winning a game this year. The coaching staff
and set up are making good headway with the team around skillsets as well as their attitude so I look forward to see the impact this has had.
Wales was on the end of a tough 6Nations last year finishing 5th having beatenEngland things didn’t work out well in the next 3 games. Like
Scotland, Wales Women have seen a “ripple” as a result of the men’s success in the World Cup last year. Wales have some exciting new players that
came through after last year’s 6Nations, such as Bethan Dainton that I think will make a huge difference to the side. A lot of talent here blended
with experience and a captain in Racheal Taylor on her way to her 60th cap are for me the team to watch. If everything can come together
on the day then they can be a difficult team to beat. For me the potential to be the most improved team this year. Look out for Bethan Dainton,
she has the ability to become world class.
Last year England finished behind Italy in 4th, something you would never have thought before the tournament started. Another team with
a new captain to last year, however it’s Sarah Hunter who has captained previously and is a good leader and incredible player. Her work rate is
something to watch, I have more photos of her bandaged up than not in all the games I have covered. She is liked and respected by the team and
this counts for a lot. England will have to work hard against Wales, Italy, Ireland and France who will all be out to maintain and improve on last
year. They can’t assume any easy games this year that’s for sure. Chatting with the players it seems this year they are very much taking each game
as it comes to ensure no slip ups and with Sarah Hunter at the helm anything is possible.
For me the player to watch is Abbie Scott, very exciting player on the ascendancy and this is her first full 6Nations.
Ireland finished on top of the pile last year and are keen to make it back to back wins this year. They have a large target on them as Niamh explained
to me as we chat about this year. Two of their toughest games are away to England and France respectively. This is Niamh Briggs second year as
captain and her first with an injury free season behind her. She is looking in great shape and when I mentioned this to her she beamed saying “that’s
what an injury free season looks like. I feel good and am in a good place”. One can’t underestimate the value of this to the team, it’s this sort
of positivity that can calm nerves and infect the significant number of uncapped players in the team. With the number of new caps in this year’s
tournament Niamh will be a stabling force. This is Ireland’s trophy to lose this year. The player to watch in the Irish team is Niamh Briggs, top
scorer last year and given her form I see her doing it again this year. With so many new uncapped players there may well be some great surprises
on this bench.
Italy finished last year in third, their best ever finish. They won games people thought they wouldn’t and pushed teams that surprised everyone. Italy
is a team under the radar but they have come so far. Another new captain this year, Sara Barratin has shown her pedigree as a player prior to taking
role. Along with four uncapped players there is a lot of change here as well. Unfortunately this year Italy travel a lot and away games have never
been there thing so as great as it would be for the continued improvement Italy has shown I’m not sure this is a year for them.
This 6Nations has so many variables it’s hard not to see how this can be the most exciting yet. New captains, so many new caps, various pressures,
players and teams eyeing the Olympics and next year’s World Cup as well as winning and improving on last year….I can’t wait!