Women's Six Nations: Why 2021 edition may be a special one

By Becky GreyBBC Sport
England's Emily Scarratt is tackled by two Scottish players
England host Scotland in the opening game of the 2021 Women's Six Nations on Saturday
2021 Women's Six Nations
Dates: 3-24 April
Coverage: All games involving home nations shown on BBC iPlayer, with coverage of all Wales games on BBC Cymru Wales and England's final match broadcast on BBC Two.

As with so many sports during the coronavirus pandemic, it has been an unpredictable year for women's rugby.

But there are reasons to be hopeful as the Six Nations finally kicks off this Saturday.

Rather than the usual round-robin format, teams are split into two pools and will play two group games each before a final weekend of fixtures to decide placings.

There may be less rugby on offer, but there are still plenty of intriguing storylines to follow. Here are five reasons why the 2021 edition of the tournament could be a special one.

1. The Super Saturday Showdown

Super Saturday Showdown is a working title at this stage, but the abundance of alliteration is helpful in depicting the drama that is sure to come from finals weekend.

After the pool games, each side will face the team who finished in the equivalent position in the other group to determine placings.

With professional sides England and France far ahead of the rest of the field in recent years, having these fixtures at the end of the tournament that pit the closest sides against each other could work well for the women's game.

Defending champions England and France are favourites to reach the final and, whoever the Red Roses play in that last match, it will be live on BBC Two.

There are obvious downsides too, of course. Most notably that fewer games means less international rugby for players and fans and no chance for England to chase a third Grand Slam.

2021 Women's Six Nations pools
Pool APool B

2. The move out of the men's shadow

Usually, the Women's Six Nations is played at the same time as the men's tournament in February and March.

It has temporarily moved to April because of the coronavirus pandemic and some believe the change could have a positive impact as the tournament continues to seek a title sponsor.

Former Scotland international Lynsey Douglas, now women's sport lead at industry analysts Nielsen Sports, hopes the new window will give the Women's Six Nations "room to breathe and grow".

"I think it's good that it's been at the same time as the men's but now maybe is the time to have it separate so there is that different opportunity for coverage and for sponsors to think about it differently," Douglas told BBC Sport.

"We look a lot at attention of fans. It is sometimes hard to get people to sit and watch a game - people are pushed for time.

"If you are trying to get people to watch the women's games as well that is a lot of rugby viewing. Having it in a different time period is its own attraction for fans to watch."

3. The battle to be England's 10

Helena Rowland
Helena Rowland will start at 10 for England against Scotland on Saturday

England's World Cup-winning fly-half Katy Daley-Mclean retired from international rugby at the end of 2020 and has left some very big shoes to fill.

Sevens star Helena Rowland will be the first to audition for the spot against Scotland on Saturday, but there are others keeping pressure on the 21-year-old.

Saracens fly-half Zoe Harrison was supposed to be on the bench and is likely to start later in the tournament.

But the 22-year-old was dropped from England's matchday 23 after breaching coronavirus protocols giving Meg Jones - arguably the form 10 in the Premier 15s - a chance to stake her claim.

4. The new coaches

Former United States sevens assistant coach Warren Abrahams was named head coach of Wales in November and this Six Nations will be the first chance to see what impact he has had.

Wales finished bottom of the table in 2020 after losing all their matches and their final match against Scotland was cancelled.

But things may well be different this year with captain Siwan Lillicrap saying Abrahams has brought "a different brand of rugby" before their opener in France.

"We want to play an attacking game and play what's in front of us. Hopefully we can bring that to life this weekend," Lillicrap said.

"The girls have been grafting hard and we've done things we've never done as a squad. We're thinking about things differently. I'm super excited to show it in reality."

Scotland have a new style of play too under Bryan Easson, who took over as interim head coach in August 2020 before being given the job permanently later that year.

Easson helped the side to an impressive 13-13 draw against France in October and will be hoping for similar results this year.

5. The World Cup

The World Cup may now be postponed until 2022, but it still has a part to play in this Six Nations.

For the teams that have already qualified - England, Wales and France - the tournament offers one more chance to test out possible future stars of the game.

And for Ireland, Scotland and Italy, who are yet to seal their World Cup place, it is even more important.

Those three teams are due to play a European qualifying tournament with Spain from which one team will automatically go through to the World Cup.

The qualifying event has so far been postponed twice with no news yet on when it can be played.

The team that finishes runner-up will go through to another tournament where they will get a second chance to qualify.

Every time Ireland, Italy and Scotland face each other in the Six Nations will be a chance to test themselves with such high-stakes qualifying events coming up.

There may be fewer matches in the 2021 Women's Six Nations, but there is no shortage of things to play for.

2021 Women's Six Nations fixtures
DateMatchLive TV CoverageKick-off (BST)
3 AprilEngland v Scotland15:00
France v Wales20:00
10 AprilItaly v England14:00
Wales v IrelandBBC Two Wales17:00
17 AprilIreland v France17:00
Scotland v Italy14:15
24 AprilItaly v TBCTBA
England v TBCBBC TwoTBA
Scotland v TBCBBC ScotlandTBA
All fixtures live on BBC iPlayer
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