For the most part, we like sporting domination. The work of Team GB, the astonishing successes of the British velodrome squad, the majesty of the current Arsenal Ladies team, the 3-0 netball whitewash handed down to the Australians last week are all very good things. Yet in last week’s Six Nations squad announcements, it feels England may have gone just a step too far in dropping 17 members of their regular squad.
A little history, and a little justification. On the back of the 3-0 series victory over New Zealand last autumn, England’s women are unbeaten in 6 matches against the World Champions and have won each of the last 7 Six Nations championships, all but one with a grand slam. The team are utterly dominant.
Yet with a Sevens World Cup on the horizon later this year, the England Management have taken the conscious decision to weaken the Six Nations squad drastically in order to prioritise the faster (and, admittedly, vastly more competitive) tournament. And this is where our problem begins.
As mentioned at the outset, we have no issues whatsoever with domination; after all, why compete if not to be the best? But somehow, this feels just slightly too close to disrespectful. The benefits – to England – are clear enough. The ability to blood a vast swathe of new talent in a fiercely competitive environment should stand England in excellent stead for both next year’s XVs World Cup and the next few years of international tournament rugby. Equally, the potentially increased level of competition at this year’s tournament should help to add another dimension of intrigue to the year’s tournament. Yet somehow, in the midst of this, it all just feels slightly wrong.
Perhaps it’s just the sheer volume of change exhibited in the England lineup, but something in the approach hints at an arrogance which doesn’t bode well for the wider sport. England’s level of skill, pace and power is broadly unmatched in world rugby, and particularly so within the Northern Hemisphere, and anything which offers a more competitive tournament can be welcomed on one hand; on the other, though, for women’s sport to increase its impact in the wider world, its leading competitors need to be seen not to undermine the competitiveness and importance of its highest profile tournaments. Women’s Rugby Union is beginning to position itself well for international audiences and its profile within the UK, particularly, is on the rise. We rather hope that 2013’s perfect storm of a potentially world-dominant team and upcoming influx of international tournaments is a one-off that ensures that future years of Six Nations tournaments are not undermined by weakened XVs and a somewhat second-tier approach.
For this year, we’ll swallow our misgivings and enjoy seeing some of England – and Europe’s – up-and-coming rugby union talent.
Come on England.