England captain Sarah Hunter has suggested the Women’s Six Nations could permanently switch to an Autumn Nations Cup-style format only if it “complements” the wider international calendar.
Six Nations organisers have not indicated this year’s truncated women’s championship – which will see teams play three fixtures throughout April – is an indefinite change.
But before the pandemic struck, World Rugby had been working on a new XV’s women’s international schedule and was in talks with its member unions – including the Six Nations – about creating a “truly global competition offering” for the women’s game.
“If [the Women’s Six Nations] does stay in this format, how would it fit with a new world calendar to ensure that the games that teams are playing remains high?” Hunter told Telegraph Sport.
“It’s really important that in the women’s game we’re continuing to play the same amount of international games, hopefully more. That’s the bigger piece – how does the Women’s Six Nations in general fit into the new world calendar that World Rugby has spoken about?
“You’ve got to see how it works, then how it would complement what might else happen before you can make a judgement and say, ‘Actually, now we want to revert to how it has been’.”
The news that this year’s competition will run separately from the men’s tournament has sparked hope the female championship can attract new audiences. For Hunter, it is indicative of the freedom the women’s game has to do things differently.
“We’re probably in a better position than the men’s game to make changes to the world calendar because we haven’t got as many stakeholders in it,” Hunter added.
“The men’s [game] has the Six Nations, Premiership Rugby, European Rugby, Super Rugby – all these groups want a say on how the men’s calendar looks like but we’re in a fortunate position in the women’s game where there’s less bureaucracy.”
Sky have broadcast all of England’s Women’s Six Nations games since 2017 but, after a combined audience of 1.9 million watched England’s victories over France last November on BBC 2, many feel a free-to-air broadcaster is needed to maximise the tournament’s profile.
Hunter signalled that England’s rest weekend on April 17 could make the competition more “viable” to attract mainstream TV coverage.
“You’ve got all the home nations taking part so that allows other broadcasters that are terrestrial to say, ‘Actually, even though England aren’t playing on that weekend, we’ll have Scotland or Wales playing – that will interest the nation,’” she said.
Meanwhile, Premier 15s leaders Harlequins will appeal the Rugby Football Union’s decision to award title contenders Saracens five points after failing to record outdoor training sessions for contact-tracing purposes.
That meant 28 Harlequins players had to self-isolate last December after a player tested positive, which forced the postponement of their match with Saracens on January 3.