Player relief as women’s Six Nations split avoided

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A WIDE-RANGING report that will bid to address the decline of the Scotland women’s national rugby team was sanctioned yesterday on the same day that it was announced that the Six Nations would not be splitting into two tiers.

The announcement regarding the report by Scottish Rugby came just hours after the Six Nations Council confirmed its continued support for the present format of the women’s championship.

Over the past few weeks there had been growing rumours that the council were going to split the event into two with Ireland, England and France in one section and Wales, Italy and Scotland in another.

This idea had been put forward by the Scottish Rugby Union and their Welsh counterparts over recent months with the former believing that a change, albeit on a temporary basis, would allow the up-and-coming players to develop on a more level playing field.

However, the idea seemed to have little backing from those involved from the outset, and numerous groups and individuals such as the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women’s Sport, the website and the Irish captain Fiona Coghlan all voiced their dismay.

Jamie Hepburn, MSP for Cumbernauld & Kilsyth (SNP), wrote to the Scottish Rugby Union about the matter and while the Scotland players remained quiet on the issue publicly, it was clear that many were upset about the idea privately.

Yesterday, many people within the women’s game in Scotland and beyond took to social networking sites to express their views regarding the decision to keep the Women’s Six Nations as they are.

Among them was Scotland scrum-half Louise Dalgliesh, who tweeted: “Great news. There is work to do, but the support from the top is what will have the biggest impact.”

Announcing the decision after the meeting in Paris, Roger Lewis, the new chair of the Six Nations Women’s Game Sub-Committee, said: “We will now positively harness the energy that has been generated by the recent debate and together take Women’s Six Nations rugby forward.”

While there seems overwhelming support for the Six Nations to continue, it does not hide the fact that on a local and Scottish level women’s rugby is in need of a serious overhaul.

Good work has been done by the SRU and clubs and schools to help grow the game at a junior and youth level, and while this may be encouraging, few would disagree that the current league structure at senior level needs a lot of work and the standard is not high enough or competitive enough.

It has been great to see two or three teenagers make the Scotland squad this year too, while the under-20s set-up is improving, but the statistics show that Scotland have not won a match in the Six Nations since 2010, with 2011, 2012 and 2013 seeing whitewashes.

Indeed this has left the nat-ional team facing World Cup 2014 qualifiers in Spain later this month. Colin Thomson, director of rugby operations at the SRU, said: “We are determined to address this decline and whatever solution is arrived at will be one with the player at its core.

“Mark Dodson, our chief executive, is commissioning a report at once looking at how the women’s game operates in Scotland and assessing its overall health.

“The report will be wide-ranging with a key element the need to identify and implement solutions that increase the number of women players, assist their development as athletes and ensure they can perform at the highest level.”

Reacting to the announcement Caine McIntyre, who coached Hillhead/Jordanhill to the double this term, said: “For me the problem is not the international set up or the girls who are committed to it, but the way the grassroots level is run.

“The women’s club game is not producing enough regular competition for players to develop their skills and they are not being tested enough.

“Women’s rugby needs to try to attract girls from other sports, but at the moment women’s rugby isn’t an attractive product.

“This report will hopefully tackle some of these issues.”

Morgan women, who won the RBS Bowl on Sunday, tweeted: “We’ll be curious to see if we as players and as clubs will be consulted in how best to progress as a rugby nation.”