The Six Nations schedule is set for a radical overhaul, with organisers considering creating a new window for the women’s competition to avoid clashing with the men’s tournament, moving it away from the traditional February-March slot in an effort to increase exposure.
There was widespread criticism of the schedule for this year’s tournament from, among others, the England fly-half Katy Daley-Mclean, with a number of the matches shoehorned into lunchtime kick-offs, often overlapping each other. Similarly, there have been problems with women’s matches staged on the same day as the men’s – often in different cities – ensuring supporters are not able to attend both.
There was also considerable disbelief at the decision to stage France v England – effectively the title decider – on the opening weekend of the 2020 tournament. That match, won 19-13 by England, attracted a bumper crowd of 14,000 while 11,000 saw them thrash Wales on 7 March at the Stoop.
This year was the second in a row organisers failed to attract a title sponsor for the women’s championship. There is no prize money either while £16m is available in the men’s tournament, and there is a growing sense that a new window would help resolve that. The most recent World Cup, in August 2017, gives an idea of the audiences available to a standalone women’s competition. The final attracted a peak audience of 2.6m on ITV.
“We are studying a possible specific window different to the men’s as part of an update to the global calendar for the women’s international game,” said a Six Nations spokesperson. “This is a working option right now, no decision is made yet.”
It is understood the proposal was being considered before the coronavirus pandemic but the disruption could accelerate the move when rugby returns. The women’s calendar has already been disrupted by the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics to 2021. There are just six weeks between the end of the Games and the start of the World Cup in New Zealand and far more women move between sevens and XVs than in the men’s game.
Firstly, however, the 2020 Six Nations needs to be completed. England, with four wins from four, are the champions elect with Italy left to play, but six matches need to be rescheduled owing to the coronavirus outbreak.