Women's Six Nations to be played in standalone window - and moves gives game fitting platform to shine

Women’s Six Nations to be played in standalone window – and moves gives game fitting platform to shine – GETTY IMAGES

Next year’s Women’s Six Nations will once again be held separately from the men’s championship in a March-April window, organisers have confirmed.

The competition will also return to its usual round-robin format in 2022, having been shortened because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which forced this year's edition to be delayed until later on in the spring.

Next year's championship, which will start on March 26, will also see the introduction of a ‘Super Saturday’ on the final day, a highlight that has long been synonymous with the men’s championship.

Fans in the UK will be able to watch every women’s Six Nations fixture on the BBC across the main network and iPlayer, while the tournament will also be broadcast in full in Ireland and Italy.

The opening weekend will see three-time Grand Slam champions England visit Scotland at DAM Health Stadium on March 26, before a trip to Italy a week later.

The Red Roses also face a potentially tricky meeting away at rivals France on the final weekend, with organisers deliberately keeping the two highest ranked nations apart until the last round in a move that is likely to boost interest and TV figures.

The Rugby Football Union had previously voiced its support for the women’s competition to be held away from the men’s traditional February-March slot after this year’s edition was hailed as a resounding success, with teams enjoying better weather conditions and increased media exposure.

Standalone slot is positive start to big year for women's rugby

Analysis by Fiona Tomas

In recent years, the women’s championship has been shackled to the men’s Six Nations, which has inadvertently blunted its entertainment value and hampered its ability to attract new audiences. But next year, it will have another chance to shine in its own dedicated window, a welcome move which is likely to go down well with fans.

The women’s fixtures still mirror those of the men’s competition, but crucially, the two highest ranked teams – England and France – will not meet until the final weekend. That will be billed by many as the championship decider in the women’s tournament, which will encourage fans to follow the Six Nations until the end.

A television audience of 600,000 watched England secure their third title in a row over France last year on BBC 2 and there was unprecedented digital engagement across the competition, a highlight being the introduction of the women’s Six Nations' very own fantasy league.

The BBC, which holds the rights to the Women’s Six Nations, will be hard pushed not to show all of England’s games on its main network.

The corporation will want to avoid a repeat of the widespread backlash it received for its neglect of the championship earlier this year, when just one of England’s three fixtures broadcast on the main network, with the 1978 film, Death on the Nile, being shown on BBC Two during England’s opener against Scotland. The Red Roses’ second game with Italy, meanwhile, was overlooked for a 2014 episode of Flog It!

The corporation, however, looks to have turned a corner after showing all four of England’s autumn internationals on BBC 2 last month, which attracted audiences of around one million each time.

The women’s rugby world is not normally used to such early fixture confirmation for the Six Nations – that is a luxury usually reserved for the men’s game (fixtures for the 2022 men’s championship were released nearly eight months ago). Last year, when organisers had the unenviable task of trying to navigate coronavirus lockdowns across European countries, the women’s schedule was announced just weeks before the competition started.

That organisers have gone early with their fixture release is encouraging. It also serves as a reminder that next year is a big one for the women’s game. The 2022 championship will be a dress rehearsal for next year’s World Cup in New Zealand, which England, France and Wales have all qualified for, while Scotland are still in the hunt to secure a final qualification spot.

Despite the positive confirmation that the women's championship will have its own breathing space next year, one noticeable detail yet to be confirmed is a long-awaited title sponsor. Organisers have consistently failed in that area.

Guinness, who are in the middle of a six-year partnership with the Six Nations worth £50million, only act as a partner for the women's competition. Now that the Women’s Six Nations looks to have been permanently moved to its own window, surely it can attract its own sponsor too?

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