England beat Wales 51-12 as they look to secure the Six Nations Grand Slam with two games remaining in the tournament. Nine tries were scored by the Red Rose as they comfortably won in Cardiff.
The result leaves England top of the table with 15 points. Italy are the only other undefeated team, although having drawn with Wales, they are three points behind the English. With the next game between the two sides, there is still all to play for.
After the game, England Head Coach Simon Middleton said “We’re definitely not taking a Grand Slam for granted, you can never do that. It’s too valuable. We’re really pleased with the result. To score 50 points in any game is impressive but to score 50 today is testament to some skilful play and down to staying in the game and overcoming some frustration to finish strong.”
England are the only professional team in this year’s Six Nations having been given professional contracts in January. The only other nations to offer contracts are France and New Zealand, however these are part-time. Fans and players alike will be hoping that other nations will follow England’s lead.
These full-time contracts for the rugby union side aren’t the first example of professionalism in the women’s rugby game. Back in 2011, the Netherlands became the first side to offer women’s rugby contracts to their sevens team.
A slew of other countries joined in with England following suit in 2014. Funding for the sevens game has been easier to come by with it being reintroduced into the Olympics in 2016 and there are several sources of money which, despite not being massive, are enough to provide the team with contracts.
The fifteen-a-side form of the game, on the other hand, hasn’t been so lucky. Efforts were made by Italy in 1960, the Soviet Union and 1980, and South Korea in 1988, to get the sport put into the Olympic program but all were met with rejection. It is hoped that the excitement of sevens, as seen in Rio Olympics, will convince the committee that it too should join.
Should that happen, the fifteens sides will have excess to many of the same sources as money as their sevens counterparts, and we would see many more sides turning professional. That said, the decision by England to offer their side contracts regardless will send a message to the other rugby governing bodies.
With just two games left, against Italy and Scotland, England will be hoping to emulate what the French achieved last year, the Grand Slam. England sides over the years have won 13 Grand Slams with the only real test being Italy for a fourteenth.
Their final game is against Scotland and is expected to be a walkover. Two of the top ten highest team scores in the Six Nations have been England vs Scotland. The first was back in 2011 when England were going for their sixth consecutive title. A run that would finish at seven, with six of those being Grand Slams.
In that 2011 Championship, England demolished Scotland 89-0. That score is nine points more than the equivalent men’s highest score, an 80 point drumming of Italy by England in 2001. The second was when England’s women last won a Grand Slam in 2017, with a smaller 64-0 victory.
Simon Middleton and his side will be hoping to cap their Six Nations off with a something similar but there is still a game against a strong Italy side to go. That game will take place on March 9th at Sandy Park, Exeter while Wales face Scotland on March 8th.