2022 saw a massive leap forward for the Women’s Six Nations for two main reasons: signing TikTok as title sponsors and making the championship a standalone competition from the men’s.
The two factors led to record-breaking crowds and the championship having never-seen-before levels of advertisement and social media presence, thus boosting the profile of the games.
TikTok were fantastic title sponsors in their first of the four years they’re signed for; the Women’s Six Nations TikTok account reached 80.9k followers and 1.2M likes, while each nation was provided dedicated TikTok creators to provide content for the team.
The reason this is fantastic is not only does it advertise the tournament on one of the fastest growing social media platforms, but it exposes new people to the sport of women’s rugby, encouraging women and girls to get involved in the sport.
Having the championship separate from the men’s Six Nations was a simple move that had an enormous impact on engagement with the competition.
By having a separate time window for the women to compete in allowed for greater viewing numbers and record-breaking attendances in stadiums this year after previous tournaments went relatively unnoticed due to the fact they were played simultaneously with the men’s’.
Every nation, save Italy and France, set international attendance records as proof that a standalone tournament is best going forwards.
However, while attendance, interaction and engagement with the 2022 Women’s Six Nations was far better, the quality of play still has a long way to go.
There was just one fully professional team at this year’s championship. One.
You won’t be shocked to learn it was the Grand Slam-winning Red Roses who benefitted from a complete squad of full-time international athletes.
Although the effort, commitment and sheer class shown by Simon Middleton’s selectees was highly commendable, you can’t help but feel like there was no real competition to begin with.
Going into their championship-sealing victory over France, they had outscored Les Bleus in terms of tries scored by double and only conceded two tries all tournament.
France were fierce competition, but the RFU’s investment in women’s rugby recently meant they were no match for England.
The value of having an entire roster of full-time rugby players cannot be understated at all when matched up against teams still containing semi-professionals.
Let’s look at how each team prepared and recovered from the England versus Ireland game for example, where the Red Roses defeated their home-nation rivals 69-0.
England had a hotel near Welford Road and were able to train together during the week, using the gym facilities and rehabbing injuries, while the Irish were at work in day jobs.
Following the game, Ireland flew home for work the next day while England had time to recover using team resources and facilities before looking ahead to their next fixture.
Critics argue that money will come to the sport when the sponsorship deals, television deals and increased viewership comes in, but how can this happen without the funding to develop the quality of product?
Freelance women’s rugby writer and presenter Stella Mills made a video surrounding this topic on TikTok where she said: “You can’t expect teams to progress without resources. It is an impossible task that no amount of passion, pride or grit is going to change.”
The passion, pride and grit is all there, as was shown by Wales and Ireland in their first half defensive stands against Middleton’s women, but the quality of play is not, as was shown by the subsequent collapses.
It is crystal clear that the rugby unions of the five other nations need to start awarding pro contracts to avoid being on the goose egg side of a 40-point loss.
This is the only way to improve the quality of player.
More time for training, gym, film review and rehab will only have positive outcomes, so it is time for rugby unions to start reaching into their back pockets.
Imagine Owen Farrell playing an England game and then going back to a regular job the day after? It just wouldn’t happen.
READ MORE: England best France to win Grand Slam in front of sell-out crowd
The article Women’s Six Nations: Professional contracts are the only way forward for the competition appeared first on Planetrugby.com.