Eyes On: South Africa v Wales

Eyes On: South Africa v Wales

The Summer Tests are officially underway. Though World Rugby’s international window was not yet open, South Africa and Wales decided to kick things off early with a match in Washington’s Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. Both teams fielded sides that can be kindly called B teams and its safe to say it showed as the two teams toiled to a 20-22 final score in Wales’ favour.

 

Scaring off the States

I really hope American fans don’t put too much thought into this match or they will never ant to watch rugby again. This was probably the worst Tier 1 international rugby match I have ever seen! Both teams had a number of debutantes and inexperienced players and very few of them did enough to try and catch their head coach’s attention (more on that later). Granted the rainfall just before kickoff would not have helped, but the handling skills of the players would have been considered unacceptable even in the Welsh Premiership.

Hallam Amos’ try came from a smart turnover from Ellis Jenkins, but he was only given the opportunity because the South Africans were too busy bumping each other to notice the ball had come out of the ruck. Tomos Williams’ try came off the back of a counterattack from Gareth Anscombe that was only possible due to a poor South African clearance that should have been put into touch. Travis Ismaiel intercepted a blind pass from Amos in the Welsh 22 and Ryan Elias’ winner summed up the game perfectly, falling on the ball over the try line after Robert du Preez had 2 clearances charged down in quick succession, the second ricocheting off Ismaiel into the dead ball area. It’s fair to say the only try that didn’t come as a result of an error was Makazole Mapimpi’s, though it could be argued that a penalty try should have been awarded when Owen Watkin deliberately played Elton Jantjies’ chip out of play to deny Jesse Kriel a chance to score.

As if all those errors weren’t enough, Watkin also knocked on with an overlap of approximately 7v3 following a great break by Ross Moriarty. Inexcusable play for a match at this level. And what could make the poor handling even worse? God awful scrummaging! It felt like the scrums went on forever as they were being reset so often. If there is anything that will stop more people becoming fans it is endless scrums.

From a wonderful game like Ireland’s win against the All Blacks in Chicago to a pile of rubbish like this… On behalf of the rugby community, I apologise to every American watching and hope you will give the sport another chance.

Though saying that, was anyone watching? The stadium didn’t even reach half capacity. Despite rugby growing in the USA due to the continued success of the men’s 15s and 7s teams and the introduction of Major League Rugby, people did not seem interested in this game! Is it any real surprise though? The springboks have been poor under Allister Coetzee and memories of their poor results and performances will not just go away now Rassie Erasmus is in charge. Put them against a Wales team that has very rarely been called exciting in recent years and you can’t help but feel sorry for the American fans at the drop in quality from previous matches. If we want to bring in new fans, we should be giving them a match involving the Barbarians, that can’t help to build excitement whilst also introducing new fans to rugby’s values.walsa

The broadcast

Wales’ Summer Tests are being broadcast on Channel 4, who will also be showing a match in each round of the upcoming season’s Champions Cup. On this showing, I’m not looking forward to it. While they got a number of quality pundits (Shane Williams, Ugo Monye and Thinus Delport) and experienced commentators in Eddie Butler and Martyn Williams, the whole thing was an absolute shambles!

The broadcast was apparently relying on pictures from an American feed and it was as if the people in charge had never seen a game of rugby before. The first half especially was full of poor camera angles and closeups that didn’t even show the ball, it was almost impossible at some moments to know what was going on. And those were the moments when the feed actually worked, as we were left without pictures on at least 2 occasions, not good enough for an international match. It wasn’t even just technical difficulties, with some of the commentary being of questionable quality and I must admit I still don’t understand why Eddie Butler felt the need to comment on the passing of Elton Jantjies’ father after complications following a bee sting, not helped by the manner of the comment before moving on to another subject making it sound as if it was humorous… safe to say I wasn’t laughing.

And with all of this going on, how did Channel 4 react on social media? By posting god awful tweets that someone clearly thought were funny. They weren’t and this was just made even worse by the poor broadcast. I was so excited to hear that we would be getting more rugby on free to air TV, but if they don’t improve their quality quickly, Channel 4 won’t be getting many viewers on a regular basis.

Laying down a marker

With the World Cup just over a year away, players are running out of chances to earn a spot in the tournament squad. Every international match is a huge opportunity but there were only a few people who really put their hands up.

André Esterhuizen made some good strong runs from inside centre and was arguably the best player for South Africa on the night. With Ben Te’o out of the June Tests, England’s midfield will be rather lightweight and I would not be surprised to see him given a chance to stake a more permanent claim in that match.

wals2For Wales, co-captain Ellis Jenkins was in my opinion the best player on the pitch, making a number of important turnovers that either stopped South African chances or created chances for Wales. Though he did have a couple of handling errors he also had a decent game in attack. He has a lot of competition at flanker but if he continues to play like this it will take a brave man to drop him form the starting XV. Scrum half Tomos Williams showed some good flashes around the fringes on his debut and had good strength to break through 2 attempted tackles for his try. However, there were times when his control of the game was lacking, he needs to work on that going forward at international level if he wants to become a regular in the 23 now that Rhys Webb is out of contention. Gareth Anscombe did enough for me to keep the 10 shirt for the next match, but there is room for improvement. He did a great job to draw in Elton Jantjies off a lineout and exploit the space with a flat pass to put Ross Moriarty through a gap, and his counterattack off a poor clearance set Wales up for Williams’ try, however his game was not consistent enough against a poor South African team and he had a mixed day with the boot, though a couple of his misses were very close and from out wide. If Gatland does want to create a more attacking gameplan, he needs to stick with Anscombe and Rhys Patchell rather than go back to Dan Biggar.

In international rugby, you’re not going to win regularly without a reliable fly half. Elton Jantjies is not that. The Lions 10 has never impressed me when I have seen him play, either for the Lions or the national team and I was always impressed by the way the Lions were able to have such success in recent years of Super Rugby despite him. In this match he was anything but reliable, with a couple of good moments being generally outweighed by a lack of control of his back line. Robert du Preez started well after replacing him by nailing his first kick at goal but he did not see out the game well with his attempted clearances being charged down twice within less than a minute to gift Wales the winner. I will not judge du Preez on one game (with the small dead ball areas I would have put the onus on the scrum half to make the clearance at the end) but he will need someone to support him to make sure his confidence does not drop from this. Last season, it appeared Curwin Bosch could be set to be the next big thing at 10 for the Boks, but this season he has been moved to 15 for the Sharks and has not looked as good there. While the Springboks have a history of grooming future fly halves in the fullback position, his play was not good enough in this match with poor kicking and limited attacking impact, so I fully expect Willie le Roux to be back in the 15 shirt against England. If South Africa are to improve, they need to find the answer at 10 quickly.

Rugby Rambles – the March 2018 News

Rugby Rambles – the March 2018 News

Qualification nightmare

I’ve been planning this post for over a week but deliberately held off writing it while I waited for a resolution to this to discuss in full. However, the entire process appears to be dragging on indefinitely and I could not hold off writing this any longer.

As a fan who has pride in the values of rugby, the whole mess between Spain and Rugby Europe these last few weeks has been a shock to the system. With Georgia already qualified for the 2019 World Cup courtesy of finishing 3rd in the pool in 2015, the final European automatic qualifying spot for 2019 would go to whoever won the 2018 Rugby Europe Championship (or whoever came second if Georgia won). So often it would be expected that Romania would take the final spot, but their loss to Spain in Round 2 meant that Spain went into the final round of matches needing a win against Belgium – who had 1 win and 3 losses to their name – in order to take the final qualification spot, which would consign Romania to a play-off against first Portugal and then Samoa.

The game ended 18-10 in favour of the Belgians and all hell broke loose. The referee had to be escorted off the field at full time as a number of Spanish players surrounded the referee in outrage of his performance. Was this win due to biased refereeing? I wasn’t there so can only go on the word of people who were there, but Spain had a poor game, however it has also been noted that the referee did have a poor game. While that alone does not imply a bias, what makes this an issue is that both the referee and his touch judges were all Romanian. Considering Romania stood to benefit from the outcome of this match, to have set of Romanian officials is always going to put that seed of doubt in people’s minds. Granted the officials were picked well ahead of the tournament, but it doesn’t look good that Rugby Europe – whose president is Romanian – chose not to change the officials when requested by the Spanish Rugby Federation, despite South African Marius van der Westhuizen being removed from running touch during Ireland’s Grand Slam victory over England on the same weekend for a perceived conflict of interests having spent time with the England camp in the build-up. It’s going to be all-but impossible to prove something untoward happened here, but it certainly leaves a nasty taste in my mouth.

The story has since taken another turn as Romania, Spain and Belgium have all been accused of fielding ineligible players during the tournament, which could lead to all 3 countries being disqualified from World Cup qualification – as happened recently to Tahiti. If this happens, then Russia (who finished 4th) would be the automatic qualifier and Germany (who face relegation from the Championship) would go into the play-off. These questions of eleigibility all centre around a stupid idea of when a player is considered “captured” by a country’s second team. The teams that “capture” players can change by the season but are generally an U20s team or a second team like the England Saxon. Then it also depends on the tournament the player was involved in or the team they were playing against to decide if they are captured. To consider a player captured because they played a couple of games for a U20s team years ago but also not players like Henry Trinder and Mike Haley (who have featured for the England first team in uncapped matches against the Barbarians) is absolutely ridiculous and far too complicated! In my opinion it would be much better for everyone involved if a player was only captured once they have been capped for their country.

With all this going on, European qualification for the World Cup is currently a mess and I think regardless of the results, there will be some who feel the team that qualifies does not deserve their place in the tournament. With World Rugby now involved, I’ll be interested to see the fallout from all this… once we finally get a decision!


Increasing availability

Though nothing has been confirmed as of yet, there are rumours that Argentina will relax their eligibility criteria for the national team to allow European-based players to feature for the Pumas. The rumours suggest this may be in place for the Summer Tests but more likely the Rugby Championship.

To me, this is wonderful news, as under the current rules, they are basically limiting themselves to the Jaguares squad and players in a domestic competition that would likely be too large of a step up to international rugby. Picking European-based players would strengthen the national team as players like Facundo Isa, Juan Figallo, Juan Imhoff, Santiago Cordero and Marcelo Bosch could all come back into consideration. Los Pumas have gone backwards since they hammered Ireland in the quarter-finals of the last World Cup. Hopefully this relaxation of the law comes in and we can get back to having a strong competitive Argentina team.


Going 4 the Champions Cup

Possibly the news that excited me most in March was that Channel 4 have bought the rights to show Champions Cup matches for the next 4 seasons. Fans will be able to watch one match from each round of the pool stages, one quarter-final, one semi-final and the final all on free-to-air TV.

This is great news for the sport as it means that top-level club rugby is becoming more accessible to more people and with the World Cup happening next year as well it will only help to grow the fanbase. Granted the Premiership matches on Channel 5 have not been quite up to the standard of BT Sport, but they have been good enough to draw in fans, hopefully having the top teams in European Rugby facing each other will draw the crowds. What is important is they get the right pundits involved, so that we get enthusiasm as well as good explanations from them to entice in new fans. I often find myself thinking the BBC panels during the 6 Nations are a little stale, but if Channel 4 can get pundits like David Flatman on board it will certainly help.

We are entering a golden age of rugby broadcasting, hopefully the amount of free-to-air top flight rugby just continues to grow. Now I just need to hope Gloucester qualify for the top competition…

Taking Sport to Another Level

We all know that technology is being used to improve sport. From GPS technology to help in training to Hawkeye and other systems being used to ensure correct decisions are made in a game. These things are obvious. But there is another way that sport is being improved by technology that probably doesn’t get enough of a mention: the fan experience.

Now I’m only 26 and it’s only in recent years that I’ve become sports mad and started paying attention on a larger scale, so I can’t properly say what it was like “back in the day” but some of these changes are so big they are clearly improving the experience for fans and possibly even drawing fans into the sport:

First up is one of the obvious ones: TV. It wasn’t that long ago that the average household only had 5 television channels. Now that we’ve had the digital switch-over, even someone without paid-for channels still has a much wider range of channels, including ones like ITV4 that will often show sporting events – just these last few months we have had live coverage of the Tour de France, Tour of Britain, Women’s Rugby World Cup and World Rugby U20s Championship! Red Button channels like on the BBC add even more chances for fans to watch sport, as we see events like Wimbledon and the Olympics shown almost in their entirety. Subscriptions for Sky and BT are much more common too, giving viewers access to multiple channels dedicated to sport, so we can see not just sport from the UK but also other countries (Sky show NFL, Super Rugby and Rugby Championship matches live). tvFor those who don’t have the time to sit down and watch all the sport that is on, we are also treated to plenty of highlights shows on free-to air TV. Match of the Day has been a staple of the Premier League for as long as I can remember – except for those few years where we had The Premiership on ITV – and there are many similar shows for other sporting events, from daily highlights of the Grand Tour cycling events to Channel 5’s football highlights covering the Championship to League 2 and their Premiership Rugby highlights show, which they have recently acquired from ITV. If it is easier for someone to watch a sport on a regular basis, then they will be more likely to become fans of the sport. We are also starting to see some sports like the NFL and Rugby League using player mics to improve the fan experience even more by putting you right in the action. I love this as not only do we get some wonderful moments on the field like banter between opponents, but we also get a chance to see the way that players communicate in a game, much in the same way that the referee’s mic in rugby allows people watching on TV to understand what is going on.

 

Even with all these extra TV channels, it is still impossible for everything to be televised. That’s where online streaming comes in. I was disappointed by ITV’s lack of live coverage for the U20s World Championship this summer (they had highlights shows for each round but only the final was shown live) but World Rugby are very good at streaming games online if there is no TV coverage available in the country. I’ve lost count of how many matches I’ve watched on their website or Facebook page so far this year! NFL.com also has the option of signing up to NFL Gamepass, which allows you to watch all NFL matches live or watch them back during the week. Much like the increased TV coverage, the extra online coverage gives people more chance to watch a sport that they are interested in, and allows them to widen their experience of the sport to other competitions.

I mentioned Facebook above, but social media in general has been huge for sports fans. Just this last week I’ve had a conversation on Facebook that I haven’t seen since i left school about 8 years ago as he saw me post about the NFL! Personally I think that Twitter is brilliant for sports fans as you will find that the majority of teams/clubs will have their own dedicated account, as will many of the players, especially at the professional level. Twitter_Icon_(Official_1)I absolutely love Twitter as it gives fans like myself the chance to not just keep up with games and news, but also interact with players and pundits in a way that fans would not have previously been able to do. It is also a brilliant place for fans to interact with one another, even if they have never met before. I doubt I’ve met even 10% of my followers on Twitter and yet a number of us can be discussing the exact same thing together from completely different countries. I can’t talk about Twitter without mentioning #rugbyunited which is led by fans and has helped bring rugby fans around the world together and even played a big part in arranging the RugbyAid charity match a couple of years ago. If you’re a rugby fan and haven’t checked them out, I highly recommend it!

Finally, there are games, a brilliant way to get people into a sport and help them get to know the rules and teams. EA are one of the biggest companies in the gaming world and they put out annual sports titles including FIFA (football), Madden (american football), NHL (ice hockey) and NBA Live (basketball). madden-18-brady-ogUnfortunately there has not been a decent rugby game for over 10 years now, but I will continue to hold out hope that we will get one soon. It was Madden that got me into the NFL, as I had seen games on TV when visiting family in the USA but had been too young to understand. However back in 2004 a friend from school let me borrow his copy of Madden 2004 and to say I was hooked is an understatement. When a game gets it right, like Madden and FIFA do, they can help you learn not just the basics but also enough of the intricacies of a sport and are a great way of learning the rules in a fun and engaging way. Not just this but they allow fans of a sport to broaden their knowledge by finding out about less known players and leagues – I think everyone has found at least one star before they were famous on FIFA career modes or playing Football Manager.

While video games are a great way for fans old and new, another type of game that is more tailored to existing fans would be fantasy leagues. For those who have never tried a fantasy league, they take real life matches and assign points to players according to their performance. ‘Fantasy managers’ select their squad and compete against friends in leagues for bragging rights, while many fantasy competitions will also have leagues for everybody from an individual country, fans of individual teams and also an overall league that contains every competitor. 20170910_190538.jpgI have been doing the Official Premier League Fantasy Football for over 10 years now, competing originally against my classmates, then uni friends and now my work colleagues. However this year I wasn’t organised enough and missed the first gameweek so have instead focused on other fantasy leagues. I frequently use the ESPN fantasy 6 Nations competition and this year have also decided to attempt a fantasy NFL league and Fantasy leagues for the Pro14 and Premiership Rugby. The Rugby Magazine’s fantasy game for the Premiership is by far the deepest fantasy game that I have ever played and I am thoroughly enjoying it 2 weeks in! The good thing about these is that it encourages people to keep up to date with how a league is going in order to stay competitive against their peers, and it allows players to spend anything from a couple of minutes sorting their team to a couple of hours, depending how serious they are taking it.

 

And the best bit about technology: It continues to improve! Live sport will continue to become more accessible and companies will continue to find new ways to improve the fan’s experience with apps and games. And all the while, us fans will continue to interact on social media. Long may it continue…

WRWC2017: A Tournament in Review

Hi guys, sorry for the delay in getting this one out, I’ve been planning this since the start of the tournament but the last week has been pretty busy with work and my personal life! Hopefully the wait will have been worth it.

 

Last Saturday saw the end of the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup. The first tournament since the 4-year cycle was brought forward by a year to line up with the Olympics and Sevens World Cup, this was a great advert for women’s rugby that finished with the top 2 teams in the world playing each other in a thrilling final. New Zealand ran out eventual winners – their fifth time as World Champions – to continue the record of England having never beat the kiwis in a senior Rugby World Cup in either the men’s or the women’s game. The final standings in the tournament were:

  1. New Zealand
  2. England
  3. France
  4. USA
  5. Canada
  6. Australia
  7. Wales
  8. Ireland
  9. Italy
  10. Spain
  11. Japan
  12. Hong Kong

Due to the coverage moving from Sky to ITV, I was able to see much more of the tournament this time around (though not as much as I’d have liked) and as such, these are my overall thoughts on the tournament:

 

As good a game as the men’s

Oddly in this day and age, the idea of women playing rugby still seems amusing to some people. Hopefully they watched a couple of matches while the World Cup was on and took note of how wrong they are.

Though the strength of some of the lesser teams in the tournament may have been lacking, the top teams were throwing themselves into tackles every bit as hard as the men would, with Australia’s opening match against Ireland full of big hits. During the tournament I heard the play described as being similar to Colts rugby. While this may initially sound like an insult, the reasoning behind it made sense to me, as the women’s game still relies heavily on talent and passing skills rather than a team’s ability to hit someone hard, kick for territory or land every penalty kick within 45 metres of the posts.

The important thing now is that the women’s game continues to push on. England were the only team all on professional contracts, yet even they are now reducing down to professional contracts for the 7s team only, which is what we currently see for many of the top teams like New Zealand and Australia. Imagine how much better these teams could be if they were able to focus on rugby as a profession, the game would just get better and better! England’s strength in depth was making them look almost unbeatable until the second half of the final. Australia won the gold medal for 7s at the Rio Olympics, just imagine the quality that they could bring to 15s if given the funding by the ARU. Hopefully by the next tournament, we will have at least a couple of fully professional teams.

Disappointing Irish

Everything that I have seen or heard suggests that the host nation got everything right in the way the tournament went, from the organisation to the behaviour of the local supporters. The only thing the hosts didn’t get right was the performance of their own team. Having made the semi-finals of the 2014 World Cup courtesy of a group stage win over the Black Ferns and, more recently, facing the Red Roses in a Grand Slam showdown at the end of this years 6 Nations, the Irish only managed narrow wins over Australia and Japan before a loss to France denied them a place in the semis. In the knockouts, they lost to the Wallaroos and then Wales to finish outside the top 7, meaning they will not automatically qualify for the next World Cup.

The hosts could consider themselves unlucky, as they did lose captain Niamh Briggs to injury not long before the tournament and they were also in arguably the Group of Death as with both France and Australia in their pool, Pool C was the only team with 3 real possibilities for the semis. Regardless, much more was expected from the women in green and they will be understandably disappointed by the way things went.

The also-rans

I felt so sorry for Hong Kong in this tournament. This was the first time they had qualified for the World Cup and they end up in Pool A alongside possible semi-finalists New Zealand and Canada and an improving Wales team. I watched their match against New Zealand and if truth be told the one-sidedness was at times painful to watch. This is not a criticism of Hong Kong, but more a comment at the difference in quality across the tournament.

A look back through the results shows that Japan were the only team to manage competitive results whilst finishing bottom of their pool, yet even they did not manage a bonus point. Neutrals are more likely to watch competitive games, so I have 2 possible ways in which we could increase the number of competitive games as the tournament moves on:

  1. Change the pool format: One option would be to spread the 12 nations over 2 pools of 6 rather than 3 pools of 4. Not only will the lower-ranked teams have more competitive games, but so will the higher ranked teams, meaning that there will be more importance to strength of the entire squad as there will be more competition throughout the tournament. This format also leads itself nicely into the current format for the playoffs, where the top 4 teams go into the semi-finals, the rest of the top 8 go into another playoff and the bottom 4 go into a final playoff.
  2. Expand the tournament: Another option would be to expand the tournament to 16 teams, allowing 4 pools of 4. While there is such a gap in quality, this may make it easier for the top teams to cruise through the pools, it would allow the lower ranked teams more competitive matches. By doing this, World Rugby would then have option as to how they want to do the playoffs. The playoffs could have 4 tiers, with the pool winners competing in the semis, second place from each pool in the next tier and so on. Alternatively they could expand the playoffs to include a quarter-final stage, with the top 2 from each pool qualifying for this (they could increase the automatic qualifiers to be the 8 teams who make it into the quarters) while the other 8 teams go into a playoff of their own.

I think of the 2 options, the first would be better in current circumstances due to the money available to women’s rugby, however I would love to see the tournament expand to include more teams. Scotland, Fiji, Samoa and Brazil come straight to mind as other possible competitors, and I’m sure there are other nations out there who feel they would be able to compete at this level.

Give us more!

While I was happy that the tournament was being shown on free-to-air TV, I was disappointed that we did not see more of the matches on live TV. With all games within a round being played on the same day, I can understand why not all the games were shown, however I was surprised that on Saturdays we often only had England’s match being broadcast, I would have thought we could at least get coverage of all the home nations’ games!

Yes these games may have been available online, but that will not grow the fan base as much as having the games on live TV. Would people really have missed their re-runs of Storage Wars that much for just a couple of weeks?

I was also very disappointed that there was no highlights show for the tournament. During the U20s World Championship in the summer, the only game shown live was the final, however there was a highlights show for each round of the tournament. With the quality of punditry ITV had – David Flatman is probably one of my favourite pundits and Maggie Alphonsi has transitioned well from pitch to studio – a highlights show would have been the perfect way to draw in new fans to the sport.

Bringing Rugby to the Masses

Amidst the copious write-ups of the 6 Nations and stories about the sad passing of both Joost van der Westhuizen and Sione Lauaki, one story that probably didn’t get as much attention as it deserved last week was the announcement that ITV have secured the rights to broadcast the 2019 and 2023 Rugby World Cups. Well it is great to see such a big tournament still being kept visible to such a wide audience on free-to-air TV, probably the best bit of the story was that this year’s Women’s Rugby World Cup and the U20s World Championships 2017-2019 will also be broadcast on ITV.

One of my earliest ever articles on this site was rather critical of the amount of broadcasting that the women’s game gets, and it looks like some of the people at the top agreed, as this year has so far been very promising for the broadcasting of the women’s game.

Though there are not just one or two broadcasters showing the Women’s 6 Nations tournament in the UK as it is for the men’s game, all the England matches are being shown live on Sky Sports. Likewise many of the Wales games are also featuring on S4C or BBC Wales, so it is good to see that, even if it is not on free-to-air TV, broadcasters are becoming more willing to show this tournament. Hopefully this will be the first step in a process that will end with all games in the tournament being broadcast by the same company, or spread over just a couple of broadcasters, allowing people to watch more of the tournament as a whole.

The BBC have also created a 30 minute weekly highlights show for the Women’s 6 Nations. This is part of the reason that I have held off writing this for a week, as I wanted to watch this show for a couple of weeks to properly judge it. I have been pleasantly surprised at the quality of the program, with decent highlights being shown – it does tend to focus more on England, but that is almost to be expected – and also a good calibre of guests giving analysis. There is no point getting the usual BBC pundits if they have no knowledge of the women playing, so I have been very happy to see big names from the women’s game like Gary Street and Non Evans on the show so far. In recent years, we have had to rely on the BBC giving a quick montage of any games that had been played up to that point in the week, or games from the week before, so it is good to now have these highlights in more detail and on free-to-air TV. Some people may be unable to watch games that are on Sky, or may not yet be big enough fans of the women’s game to consider it worth 2 hours of their time to watch live, so this highlights show will help keep fans up to date and hopefully help to build up a bigger fan base for the women’s game.

It is great to see that the Women’s World Cup is getting the same treatment as the men’s by broadcasting it on ITV. ITV already have the highlights show for the Premiership and broadcast half the 6 Nations as well as all of the men’s World Cup, and will also be showing a number of live Premiership games from next season. It certainly feels as if they are trying to become the definitive free-to-air broadcaster of rugby union, and I think they have realised that the women’s game is an area of the sport that is growing at an impressive rate, especially after the performance of Team GB in Rio. With the (now professional) Red Roses defending their title so close to home, the interest in the tournament will stretch outside its usual group of fans, so free-to-air broadcasting will help spread women’s rugby to the masses. The agreement only seems to be for the 2017 tournament at the moment, but hopefully if this goes well we will see future tournaments being added to this.

While I was very happy to see the Women’s World Cup picked up by ITV, I was extremely surprised, but not in a bad way, to see ITV also pick up the next three U20s World Championships, starting this summer. Many of the games that I have seen in recent years have been entertaining affairs, with England’s regular success again likely increasing the interest in the tournament. We have also seen a number of recent graduates from the U20s featuring at the top levels, including Baptiste Serin, Jack Clifford, Ross Moriarty, Jack Nowell and Maro Itoje all starting games in the opening rounds of this year’s 6 Nations, and current members of the England U20s like Zach Mercer and Sale’s Curry twins regularly playing top-level rugby for their clubs. As we begin to build towards Tokyo 2019, some of these players may be making it into the senior national teams in time for the World Cup, and I’m sure many more will be making the step up in the years following, it’s never to early to start watching the stars of the future.

I may not be the biggest fan of ITV sports coverage in general – I hate the regular ad breaks – but the quality of the rugby broadcasts have generally impressed me over recent years. I can only see this new deal with ITV as a positive. Current and new fans will have more access to live rugby, the sport will be able to reach a wider audience and ITV will have the chance to increase their viewing figures during these tournaments, whilst improving their monopoly over a number of free-to-air sporting events. Next thing on the list: get the Women’s Premiership televised!

 

What are your thoughts on the new broadcasting deal? Are you enjoying the increased coverage for the Women’s 6 Nations? Want to give your opinion on anything I’ve mentioned? Comment on here or feel free to tweet me @PS_tetheridge

Are broadcasters failing the women’s game?

On Saturday night, Dylan Hartley will be leading his team onto the Stade de France pitch with the intention of winning England’s first 6 Nations Grand Slam since 2003.  What a lot of people may not realise is that the England Women were also fighting for the Grand Slam against their French counterparts tonight, in a match that would decide the winner of this year’s 6 Nations tournament.

When the England Women won the Rugby World Cup in 2014, the general thought was that this was just what was needed to spur on more girls to play rugby. Unfortunately it would seem like this chance is going to waste, as the amount of women’s rugby being broadcast seems to be decreasing if anything.

(SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT!!) My friend’s website http://www.rugbyontv.co/ is my first port of call if I’m trying to find what channel a match is on. Just one look at where to find the Women’s 6 Nations this weekend said it all: the title decider, France v England was on the Sky Sports 3 Red Button. Wales v Italy on the S4C website. Ireland v Scotland? Who knows…

Now I understand that it’s not cheap to broadcast a sports tournament, but surely one of the top international rugby tournaments (irrespective of gender) deserves a regular broadcaster. How can we expect girls to want to start playing rugby when they can’t regularly watch these internationals and develop female role models? I’ve found it hard enough remembering which channel I have needed for each match of the men’s tournament this year…and that’s only being spread over 2 channels! How are even die-hard fans expected to remember where they need to watch when there’s half a dozen possible TV channels, before taking into account red buttons and websites?! Its not as if they even get much of a mention during the broadcasts of the men’s games, if we’re lucky we get a quick overview of the 3 matches that last’s almost as long as the highlights of a single men’s match.

For those that may miss this quick recap – assuming we get one this weekend- the French Women beat England 17-12, a result which has won them the title this year. England may be World Champions, but they have now gone 4 years without winning the 6 Nations. There has also not been a Grand Slam for the last 2 years in the Women’s tournament. Matches are getting closer by the year as results much less predictable. The tournament is getting more exciting, yet we’re finding it harder to watch it.

There’s not even the usual 4 years between the last World Cup and the next. The cycle has been brought forward a year to maximise the chances of top players also being able to play in the Olympics and Sevens World Cup. With the 2017 tournament being hosted in Ireland, this was the perfect time to raise the profile of the game, giving the chance for record crowds and broadcasting figures , but it would seem that chance is going to waste.

A focus on women’s rugby at each World Cup will help to get a bit more recognition for the the sport, but in order for it to grow and improve in the way that some other women’s sports have (a perfect example being women’s football) it is vital that the broadcasting of women’s rugby, especially the 6 Nations, improves going forwards. Fingers crossed this happens soon…