Adam Hathaway wonders where everyone went when the men’s Six Nations finished on Saturday because they missed a sporting wonder and wants a lie down on the couch.
Last week was the week when women’s sport made it onto the back and the front pages thanks to the exploits of Bryony Frost, Lizzie Kelly and Rachael Blackmore when they were riding winners at the Cheltenham Festival.
They were competing at National Hunt racing’s headquarters, they were brilliant and they did the business against male rivals. Frost became the first woman to ride a Grade One winner at jump racing’s Olympics and then became an internet legend.
Frost gave possibly the greatest post-race, or post-match, interview of all-time when she was still on Frodon, being grilled by Oli Bell on ITV, after she had steered him to victory in the Ryanair Chase on Thursday.
All the ‘we’re pleased we won, it is a good day for the team, and I would like to thank the coach’ merchants in all other sports please take note.
Frost, a brilliant jockey, was absolute gold dust and if you look up her interview online and don’t have a lump in your throat after watching it you have a heart of stone.
So that teed it up nicely for what should have been a celebration of one of England’s greatest women’s teams on Saturday night when Sarah Hunter’s crew played Scotland at Twickenham after the men’s ridiculous melt down. It should have been packed out but it wasn’t.
As my colleague John Westerby wrote recently it is time to take the women’s matches away from HQ and not treat them as an afterthought.
And here is why.
We have been down this road before but in case anyone forgot there were two Grand Slams won on Saturday.
The Welsh men deservedly won their one, and what a hero Alun Wyn Jones was in Cardiff, and the England women won one too – but no-one seemed to notice the latter.
There was the thick end of 82,000 people at Twickenham at 5pm when the final game of the men’s Six Nations kicked off. After 80 minutes of mayhem most of them deserted the stands for the bars, after paying well north of a hundred notes for tickets, and the chaos of Twickenham station and, believe us, it was utter chaos even at 9.30pm.
But the stands were eerily empty.
Julien Baptiste wouldn’t have taken long to find the punters but they were The Missing. And more fool them.
They left behind the chance to see a truly great international side stick 80 unanswered points on Scotland. Hunter’s mob made it five out of five, nailed the Grand Slam and ended up with 278 points for, including a ridiculous 45 tries, and 45 points against in the tournament. They are to quote the poet, a bloody good team.
To put those stats into context Italy, who came second in the women’s Six Nations after their 31-12 win over France, managed 12 tries in their five games.
That is two out of the last three championships for the England team who won seven on the spin, to 2012, before the bonkers decision to prioritise sevens. Thankfully that has been reversed and the best players are now available to play 15s.
The official attendance for the England women’s game on Saturday, and you can get in free once the men’s game has finished by the way, was 13,278. Pull the other one, it has got bells on – the place, well the parts where you could actually see the pitch, wasn’t even a tenth full. The game was being shown on the televisions in the bars around the ground but no-one seemed to paying attention.
Again, more fool them.
It makes you wonder what people want. A day on the sauce is all well and good, and RugbySpy loves a day on the sauce as much as the next person, but they had the chance to watch superstars like Hunter, Emily Scarratt and Katy Daley-Mclean and they turned it down for a £6.50 pint in a wind-blown bar, with some grotesque music blaring out, when they could have taken the sauce to their seat anyway.
Hunter, a brilliant No.8, was the World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year in 2016, Scarratt, a centre, is so good she won the Rugby Writers’ Club Pat Marshall Award for 2014, and we know the game, and Daley-Mclean won her 100th cap in the autumn.
Scarratt was the second woman to win the hacks’ award – Maggie Alphonsi won it for her efforts in 2010 – and the midfielder is on the honours board in the Twickenham press centre between Leigh Halfpenny and Dan Carter. Not bad company but she can play all right and fully deserves to be there. Why wouldn’t you want to watch that lot play rugby?
Especially when you have already shelled out the best part of 200 quid for the day, when tickets, travel, sauce and burgers are taken into account. Talk about a Billy bonus.
Chuck in Natasha Hunt, Hannah Botterman and Jess Breach and it is a tidy outfit and they deserved better than the cold shoulder they got from the Twickenham not-so-faithful on Saturday night.
People will trot out the old cobblers that the women’s Six Nations was a foregone conclusion because England are on full-time contracts but that is, errrr cobblers.
The women’s deals only came into place in January, they are not exactly on a fortune anyway, and a year’s dosh from the RFU to them is what Maro Itoje would trouser in a couple of weeks.
So that argument is out of the window, as Hunter said to us before the tournament they had exactly the same preparation for this campaign as they would have done any other year. And they had a boil to lance after losing out to France last year.
As boss Simon Middleton said: “This competition means so much to us and it was soul-destroying losing it last year, and we wanted to put that right.
“We wanted to do it in the right way, play some good stuff, and show how we’re progressing as a side.”
That boil got well and truly lanced and they played some proper good stuff with the following results…. 51-7 against Ireland, 41-26 against France, 51-12 against Wales, 55-0 against the Italians and the 80 point gubbing of Scotland.
Read them and weep Eddie.
Exeter managed to fill Sandy Park for the women’s game against Italy a week ago so the time to use their matches as some sort of extra at Twickenham has gone. Take them back to Sandy Park, Doncaster, Franklin’s Gardens, the Stoop, Welford Road, Kingsholm, Kingston Park and let them stand on their own.
Their matches are good enough to be one-off occasions and the current England team, under Hunter and Middleton, wouldn’t have blown a 31 point lead for sure.
One of our Scottish colleagues, you know who you are Rob, on Saturday said ‘at least it is good for deadlines’ as England went 31-0 up on Saturday at Twickenham.
The 5pm kick-offs are a nightmare for Sunday papers because you are on a tight schedule and if a match is definitely going one way or another at least you can get cracking on filing your finest deathless prose.
So Saturday’s match report had written itself before the interval and it was a feet up, just put a top on it, and Bob’s your uncle job. You could have started as soon as Joe Launchbury went over for England’s third try and that was less than a quarter of an hour in. From a work point of view it was a beauty.
If only. As Edwyn Collins once sang ‘It was rip it up and start again’.
Rugby players talk about having fire in their belly and their heads in the freezer but England got it the wrong way round in the second half on Saturday as it all went belly-up.
There was a lot of talk about psychologists and the rest of the mind benders that the team might need to stop fouling things up in the second half like they did in Cardiff and again just off Whitton Road at the weekend. 38-38 from 31-0 up, nuts.
The RFU might be able to afford such luxuries but newspaper budgets these days don’t stretch to therapists so can the England team please sort out their second half brain fades. It is no good for the desks who want copy ASAP.
And it is doing our heads in.