Livescore Tuesday, April 23
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The fallow week has arrived, and the cursor pulsing on this blank Pages document feels unnecessarily intense and interrogative. It’s too soon to draw informed conclusions, but it’s equally inarguable that we’ve learned a fair bit already.

Ireland are playing with grit off a vastly more robust platform, the Red Roses are on a journey from mauling mastery to winsome width, and the fairy godmother of momentum has transformed Scotland’s pumpkin of a 2022 into a galloping horse-drawn carriage. The stories are emerging.

‘Five Things We’ve Learned from the Opening Rounds of the 2024 Women’s Six Nations’ has been done, is being done as I type, and will be done again before we kick on with the championship, so – in a bid to put a slight (read: dubious) twist on that tried-and-tested classic of a listicle, here’s a player from each nation whose contribution so far encapsulates their team’s campaign.

England – Meg Jones

The mesmeric supernova of a centre is one of a throng of genuinely world-class midfielders vying for John Mitchell’s attention. My first thought when I saw his selection for Parma was ‘No one needs that many playmakers…’, and he acknowledged when we spoke last week that he’s got a real job on his hands figuring out what to do with this particular abundance of riches.

The Cardiff-born firecracker was top for carries, offloads, and dominant tackles against Wales – and only Connie Powell, who’s currently stuck on her ‘stampede’ setting – beat more defenders. She then proved her versatility when Zoe Harrison came on by gliding to fullback, and nabbed a try assist in between the countless occasions when she rolled up her sleeves and did the less glamorous stuff.

Jones typifies both England’s strength and what could prove their Achilles heel by being so fantastic: they need to figure out their best team in time for Bordeaux, and give them opportunities to gel, but that’s going to be tough when there are so many combinations available.

If you spot Mitchell whipping out his tiny violin – stop him, please: it’s a nice headache to have.

France – Lina Queyroi

The fly-half currently perches second in the points-scoring stakes, which is also where her team are situated in the standings – and where you find Les Bleues for so many key metrics.

Pauline Bourdon Sansus remains their attacking fulcrum, but it will be fascinating to follow the startlingly-talented Queyroi’s journey in that ten jersey – one occupied by Caroline Drouin in 2022, and then Carla Arbez last year. Could the Blagnac standoff be the one to guide them back to the summit of the podium? Or into a World Cup final?

At just 22, she’s a shade younger than the average member of this fresh-faced squad – 24 years old – but boasts a dazzling skillset already, as do many of her sprightly contemporaries. Élisa Riffoneau, Kelly Arbey, and Assia Khalfaoui are all happily hurtling towards ‘household name’ territory, and the whole side’s led by a captain predated by the Millennium Dome…

They’re playing wide this championship – getting the ball through the hands and offloading wherever possible. 34 against Ireland. 19 versus the Scots.

As the jouez jouez snaps, crackles, and pops, the errors rack up – but they nail more than they butcher, and Queyroi’s more than happy to go to the boot when required. She’s racked up 600 metres from 20 efforts, and slotted seven of her nine off the tee.

France aren’t playing the velvety, assured stuff we’ve grown accustomed to, but the ingredients are all there, and – with an extra week’s honing before they host Italy – you suspect they’ll be purring again soon.

Italy – Beatrice Rigoni

This column loves Rigoni – we all do – but she’s the choice here because of her mixed performances, rather than her pick-and-mix.

Against Ireland, she missed a third of her tackles and conceded four turnovers – including a fingertip fumble with the whitewash at her mercy – whilst contributing a try assist and seven points off the tee.

It had been a very similar story against the Red Roses – where her through-the-legs pop pass cost the Azzurri possession, but she also consistently kept the defending champions’ heads swivelling and bodies fixed.

Opening your campaign against England is like being told at the first class of your beginners’ tightrope walking course that you’ll be doing this particular lesson without a safety net: it’s a hideous amount of pressure under which to find form, and the conclusion is both foregone and grisly. Italy rattled the Roses, but being shut out by 14 women at home isn’t good enough – and their performance in Cork needed to be better.

Elements were, as they kept things pragmatic in pursuit of a vital result, but they still let Ireland back into the game on several occasions, and needed a valiant final defensive set to notch their first win.

Like Rigoni: bits to applaud, but plenty to tighten.

Scotland – Emma Orr

If you don’t enjoy watching Orr play, then there’s no hope for you, I’m afraid. Please see yourself out. She’s an arch predator in the midfield – combining fearsome athleticism with a level head and eye for a gap – and so much of what she touches blossoms for the Thistles.

Critically, she’s won seven of her 15 test matches, and is probably less excited by that than any of us. In her eyes, why wouldn’t Scotland win seven on the spin?

Why not conquer Cardiff before giving Gaëlle Mignot and David Ortiz grey hairs the following week? As far as Orr is concerned, or Elliann Clarke or Meryl Smith, Scotland are contenders whenever they lace up – and that twelve-game losing streak is old, old news.

The centre perfectly embodies their newfound self-belief, but that’s not the fearlessness of youth: it’s the gutsy self-assuredness and wholehearted relish of a team in their best-ever spot.

Ireland – Neve Jones

Worker ants can carry up to 50 times their own body weight, and only require 60-second naps in between their relentless shifts. Ireland’s hooker is eerily similar to this – only the pint-sized wrecking ball’s never been caught napping.

She’s played every minute so far, notching: a try, 35 tackles (five dominant), 19 carries, an eye-watering 61 ruck arrivals, and a breakdown steal for good measure.

Fixture

Womens Six Nations

Ireland Women’s

Italy Women’s

She’s a ballistic bundle of nouse and energy – the sort of player you can build an entire squad around – and it’s the all-court nature of her two performances which have got her selected here, because Ireland are playing with a robustness we just didn’t see last year.

They’re scrapping, and scrapping well, for territory, possession, and points over the full 80 – whilst maintaining peerless discipline and scoring through a variety of sources. Their set piece needs work, but there’s so much they can hang their hat on – from Dannah O’Brien’s faultless place kicking to their crisp work around and from the ruck, and their seriously impressive tackle busting.

You don’t need to spend long perusing the numbers to see that Ireland are, in every department, hustling incredibly hard, and proving competitive as a result.

Wales – Bethan Lewis

Whilst you’re knee-deep in said stats, you’ll come across this Welsh back rower’s name with stunning regularity. Bethan Lewis is a magnet for line-out ball (stolen or otherwise), pilferable possession on the floor, and exposed ribs in open play – but it’s the name we’re not saying which is the most revealing here.

Sioned Harries terrorised opponents to great effect over four World Cups, but – and I say this with the greatest of respect to the talismanic menace – I’ve mentioned her retirement on-air just once in 2024, because Lewis has been so titanic at the base of those crimson scrums in her stead.

Similarly – Lleucu George hasn’t had the perfect tournament, and is still growing into that fly-half jersey – but she’s more than holding her own since El Snowsill stepped away from the programme. Ioan Cunningham will want Ffion Lewis back as soon as possible, but not because teenager Sian Jones isn’t up to the job of keeping Keira Bevan on her toes, or starting against England in front of almost 20,000 fans.

Competition in his squad has never been more ferocious – just look at how Georgia Evans made her point upon entering the fray in Cardiff, or Alisha Butchers’ arrival on-field at Ashton Gate, which was like something from ‘The Last of Us’.

And yet – despite the youngsters pulling up trees, the host of Premiership stars replicating club form in feathered jerseys, and Wales’ newfound ability to stay on the right side of referees (less than ten penalties a game and no cards..? Breakthrough!) – they’re bottom of the log and winless. That third-round clash with Ireland will be colossal, and one of the defining fixtures of these sides’ campaigns.

Two played. Three to go. Five players who give a sense of the status quo. Thanks for stopping by.



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