Women’s Six Nations ambassador and seven-time Championship winner Maggie Alphonsi is predicting a feast of ‘exciting and entertaining rugby’ in a 2021 campaign set to be as competitive as ever.
The action begins this weekend as England welcome Scotland in Pool A and France host Wales in Pool B, the first two matches in a new format which will require teams to hit the ground running.
All six sides have been working relentlessly in training camps to ensure they are in the best shape to do just that and Alphonsi, who played an integral part in England’s seven consecutive titles between 2006 and 2012, believes the players will be desperate to put on a show.
“With the way this year’s tournament is structured, we’ll see some big clashes early on and I think that first weekend will be really interesting,” said the 37-year-old, who will be offering her expert insight throughout the Championship in her role as a Women’s Six Nations ambassador.
“Players and teams will want to prove their point. There aren’t as many games, so every game counts and you need to get your wins on the board.
“The players have been training hard and I think we’ll see some really exciting and entertaining rugby.
“Every Six Nations game is special and significant so to get that Grand Slam or winners medal is really quite powerful.
“It’s a language that speaks across all rugby people – if you say you’ve won the Six Nations, everyone knows how significant it is.”
Alphonsi’s seven Championships with the Red Roses included six Grand Slams and the current crop are going in search of a third consecutive crown.
Simon Middleton’s side concluded last year’s unbeaten campaign against Italy before beating France in back-to-back autumn internationals and Alphonsi is excited by the prospect of seeing how England’s style evolves in the coming weeks.
“I think England will pick up from where they left off in the autumn Tests, playing with physicality and intent,” she said.
“I’m looking forward to seeing new players coming into the fold and one player I’m interested to follow the progress of is Helena Rowland.
“England have seen Katy Daley-McLean retire and I think we could see Helena really make a breakthrough.
“England have won several close games against France recently but anything can happen in the Six Nations – that’s why we love it so much.
“The domestic standard has gone to another level and that is reflected at international level. The Six Nations is starting to get closer and the gap is narrowing.
“We thought Wales were underdogs in the men’s competition and they’ve come through and won the Championship
“I feel the same with the French – they have lost out a few times by very close margins and that might drive them on.
“England will also be very aware they can’t rest on their laurels. It will be very interesting to see how they approach the Championship and keep their usual high standards.”
Alphonsi’s rugby journey began with Saracens at the age of 13 and with youngsters across England, Wales and Scotland set to return to their grassroots clubs in the coming weeks, the 2010 World Cup winner hopes this year’s Championship will act as further inspiration for those watching at home.
“For the Women’s Six Nations to happen now is perfectly timed,” said Alphonsi, who will be doing a live Q&A on Instagram each weekend – keep an eye on the Women’s Six Nations social channels for details on exact timings.
“Hopefully youngsters will watch it and think ‘I want to play rugby’.
“Now that we are starting to open up, they will hopefully find a way back into a club, start picking up a ball and running around with it.
“I think people being able to watch it will give them that hunger to want to play and be part of the sport.”