Stella Mills: “I defy anyone to say that women’s rugby is not fun”

We always knew this Six Nations campaign would be different, but these last few weeks have been something else. I defy anyone to say that women’s rugby is not entertaining, from record crowds to crazy comebacks, this tournament has had it all.

It’s also hard to argue against the benefits that the independent window and title sponsor have brought, TikTok’s involvement in the tournament has fueled growth and interest in women’s rugby.

In terms of media coverage, we saw a lot of media interest in this tournament, the Sun even published a record-breaking 10-page excerpt to preview the tournament. The competition has seen unprecedented broadcast coverage globally, with 137 countries covering the championship via broadcast and terrestrial services.

Speaking specifically on TikTok, the #SixNationsRugby hashtag has generated more than 3 billion views on the social media platform, with content tied to the #W6N hashtag generating more than 130 million videos.

One of the highlights for me was seeing the women’s matches specifically advertised and promoted in pubs across the country, something that hadn’t been seen before when the tournament was operating in the shadow of the men.

Looking at the viewing figures on the BBC, the TikTok Women’s Six Nations matches attracted higher peak audiences than the Women’s Super League, which is interesting considering that women’s football is often seen as more advanced than men’s. women’s rugby What makes this even more interesting is that the Italy v England match was not originally going to be broadcast live on the BBC, however the decision was changed a few days before broadcast which obviously worked in favor of the 710,000 fans who tuned in to watch it. .

However, now that the competition has run its course, we must now look to the future, to understand how we can not only sustain but also build on the growth of the women’s game.

The Red Roses left with their 16the Grand Slam this year, on a strong 23-match winning streak. In fact, England have won 18 titles in total in the Women’s Six Nations. But why? Is there a secret ingredient to the success of the England team? Is Simon Middleton into something other nations aren’t?

The answer is simple: investment. The RFU has invested in a fully professional women’s team and is reaping the benefits of doing so. The Red Roses received contracts in 2019, and the team currently has 29 players under contract. Additionally, England’s domestic league is one of the best in the world for competitive talent. It is so good that it is currently, and controversially, attracting talent from all over the world. Which means Simon Middleton has his pick of the bunch when it comes to a conveyor belt of talent.

I want to specifically call attention to my choice of words there, I used the word ‘investment’ on purpose because that’s exactly what it is, an inversion. The classic argument that women’s rugby is not profitable is no longer an excuse not to invest in the game. As with all trading decisions, you don’t invest in something and expect immediate profit wise, so why are we seeing this excuse? The audience is clearly there, the product will only get better, so why don’t we see other syndicates backing the game with contracts yet?

This year’s tournament brought with it some big talk about professional contracts, fueled by the announcement that Italy had awarded their team semi-pro contracts, with the Irish team having to return to work just 24 hours after playing England in front of a record . breaking crowd.

Looking ahead, TikTok’s sponsorship of the tournament will run until 2025, and with the women’s game growing at a rapid rate, it’s hard to see anything but growth in the near future, but we need unions to step up and come to the party

This year’s tournament was hailed as a huge success, but imagine how much better it could be if all the teams involved in it turned pro.

The narrative around women’s rugby is changing, players are no longer grateful to be included, they are finally stepping up and asking for what they deserve.

At the conclusion of the 2022 competition, the only fully professional team is England. Hopefully, as the queen of all things women’s rugby Ali Donnelly suggests, this will be the last time we see amateur teams playing in this competition.

For players, contracts are not just about financial rewards, but also about basic respect. You can see the monumental turnaround that even a small investment from a union can have by looking at the performance of the Welsh team throughout the campaign. For a team that finished bottom of the table last year, jumping to third place is no mean feat, and it’s certainly no coincidence that the team has been awarded contracts.

Like everything in women’s rugby, time will tell. Most of the teams participating in the TikTok Women’s Six Nations will have some testing moments between now and the next tournament, with a World Cup and fall internationals before 2023.

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