The 2022 Tiktok Women’s Six Nations begins this Saturday when Scotland host England at the DAM Health Stadium in Edinburgh.
It is a tournament of one many firsts. The first time the Women’s Six Nations has its own slot, different to the Men’s Six Nations, and the first time it has its own sponsor.
There is also a World Cup this autumn to think about, so that will be in the thoughts of… most of the teams (sorry Ireland). The Six Nations presents a great opportunity for emerging players to make their case as to why they should be in the XV.
With that in mind, here is an under-23 player from the top three teams in last year’s tournament, England, France, and Ireland, that you should keep an eye on.
England – Lagi Tuima
England are stacked!
They have World Cup Winners and promising youngsters. Furthermore, thanks to a willingness to give debuts at a young age, they have a core of players in their early-mid-twenties who are seasoned internationals before they have even reached their prime (Sarah Bern has 40 caps and is a World Cup finalist at 24!).
Naturally there will be battles all over the pitch, but the biggest one appears to be in the midfield. Emily Scarratt has made the 13 position her own for over a decade, but she has only recently come back from a long-term injury, so questions remain over whether she is fit enough to play.
This leaves Saracens’ Holly Aitchison and Harlequins’ Tuima. Aitchison started as the 13 in both matches against New Zealand last autumn, but my pick is Tuima.
Coach Simon Middleton wants his midfield to be packed with skilled passers and kickers. Many of the options can play at fly half or kick for their club sides and Lagi Tuima is no different.
The 23 year-old centre, who is the cousin of England international Joe Cokanasiga, has scored the fourth highest points total in the Premier 15s this season.
Alongside her kicking, Tuima is strong tackler and ball-carrier, which was demonstrated last month when she scored a hattrick against Worcester Warriors.
France- Emilie Boulard
France are currently going through a transition.
There are just 11 players left in this year’s Six Nations’ squad that played in the last World Cup, and only 7 of them played more than 80 minutes for France last year.
One of those recently marginalised is Jessy Tremouliere, World Rugby’s Women’s 15s Player of the Decade 2010-19.
She featured in all of France’s games in the 2020 Six Nations, with only Emily Scarratt scoring more points than her in the tournament. Last year, however, she played just 75 minutes.
Her absence has not been felt, thanks to the performances of Emilie Boulard, who is slotting into the side in a way that belies her youth.
Boulard scored two tries in the Six Nations last year, including one against Wales on her French debut, but her best game for her country came against New Zealand.
The fullback had a great game against a Black Ferns side that put her under a lot of pressure with kicks. This performance was capped off with a try as France beat New Zealand by their greatest ever margin.
England’s kicking game against New Zealand in the autumn was something that brought them a lot of joy. With the Red Roses likely to have a midfield full of capable kickers, we may see more of that when they play France in the final game.
Boulard will therefore have an important role if France are going to win Le Crunch!
Ireland- Beibhinn Parsons
A lot has happened in Irish women’s rugby following their failure to qualify for the World Cup.
The aftermath has seen the women’s rugby director Anthony Eddy leave his post and the CEO of the IRFU (Irish Rugby Football Union) formally apologise to the players for failing the women’s game.
Naturally much soul searching has followed, and this can be seen in the squad.
Many of Ireland’s most experienced players will not be playing in the Six Nations, either due to retirement or omission, and unlike France’s squad, they have not been phased out.
We will have to wait to see if those players will return in the future but in the meantime Ireland needs some of the younger players to step up in the absentees’ place.
Beibhinn Parsons is only 20 years old, but the winger already has 15 caps (the most of any of the youngsters here). Only seven players in this squad have more caps, and none of them are under 25.
It is a shame that Parsons will not be at the World Cup this autumn. She was one of Ireland’s best players during the qualifiers, scoring tries against both Spain and Italy, the latter being her seventh international try.
The ability she has to change games is why Parsons is slowly becoming the star of Irish rugby.
She also scored two tries against Wales, who Ireland play on Saturday, in last year’s Six Nations. She has all the talent to do it again!
You can read part two, looking at the youngsters to watch from Italy, Scotland, and Wales, here.
You can read more of the Sports Gazette’s Rugby content here.