Women’s Six Nations could be set for split

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A DECISION is set to be made next week on plans to split up the women’s Six Nations Championship into two tiers for 2014.

The Scottish Rugby Union and their Welsh counterparts began discussions about the possibility a few months ago, which would put 2013 champions Ireland, England and France in one section and Wales, Italy and Scotland in another.

The drive behind change seems to involve the inability of the bottom three sides to make an impact at the top of the table.

The Scottish Rugby Union believe that a change to the current format, albeit on a temporary basis, would allow the up-and-coming players to develop on a more level playing field rather than being on the wrong end of one-sided matches from time to time.

The Six Nations committee have since discussed the matter at length and it is on the agenda for when they come together on 10 April. A Six Nations spokesman confirmed it is a strong possibility that a vote could be taken at this meeting to move things forward.

A Scottish Rugby Union spokesman stated: “We are aware that discussions have been taking place and we look forward to hearing more after this meeting. We are committed to improving women’s rugby in this country and are keen to look at all the options available to do this.”

The changes could mean teams playing just two matches a year in the tournament.

The news comes at a time when the women’s game has never had such a high profile, with England and New Zealand having upped the ante in terms of professionalism, Ireland having won the Grand Slam and the IRB women’s circuit really taking off.

However, Scotland have struggled in the Six Nations in recent years. This year, they scored just three points and conceded 203 in clocking up five defeats in an event book-ended by confidence-sapping 76-0 defeats by England and France. The poor year means that Scotland have not won a match in the event since 2010.

In February and March, the team, featuring some exciting new players, did show that they can compete with the likes of Italy, Ireland and Wales in patches, but lack a killer edge. It was a massive step up from the club game to the international arena for the likes of teenagers Sarah Law and Jade Konkel, but they flourished.

When interviewed during this year’s tournament, Scotland captain Susie Brown made it clear that the team want to test themselves against the best, even if they do go into some contests as underdogs. “These are the matches you dream about being involved in,” she said ahead of the England match.

Irish coach Philip Doyle and many ex-players from around the nations have voiced concerns over the proposals and the editor of Scrumqueens.com, Ali Donnelly, said: “There are concerns about the future of women’s 15s at international level if this proposal is agreed.

“The Six Nations is the only ring-fenced tournament in women’s rugby outside of the World Cup.

“Tampering with that, to me, sets a worrying precedent.

“The women’s game is already facing huge challenges to keep up with the growth of women’s sevens while maintaining funding and commitment to the 15s game.

“Rugby is a game for all shapes and all sizes – and women’s rugby must be too.”

Former Wales captain Non Evans said: “If this happens, it’s the end of women’s 15-a-side rugby as we know it.”