From The Vaults

08 April 2024
The First Women's Six Nations

The first women's 6 Nations Championship took place in 2002. It followed three years of the women's Five Nations Championship (1999-2001), which in turn followed three years of the women's Home Nations Championship (1996-1999).

It comprised six teams- England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France and Spain. Spain would contest the first five Six Nations Championships before being replaced in the tournament with Italy as the tournament became aligned with the men's.

Geoff Richards' England went into the tournament having won the previous three Five Nations and had high hopes of continued success. France had finished second on points difference in 2001, despite losing to Spain, who in turn had lost to Scotland, who France beat. All three finished on four points. Wales brought up the foot of the table, having lost all four matches.

Paula George, 2002

Captained by Paula George (pictured v Ireland), a veteran of three Rugby World Cups, England could call upon the experience of Gill Burns and Helen Clayton in the second row and the prolific try soring of Sue Day and Nicky Crawford in the backs. They began their campaign with a 35-8 victory against Scotland in Dunbar, before running riot against Ireland, winning 79-0.

France had their own experienced captain in the shape of centre Nathalie Amiel; and the equally threatening full back Annick Heyraud and Estelle Sartini providing tries from the midfield. Their powerful forwards were adept at shutting out the opposition and France came through their first two matches without having conceded a point, winning 24-0 against Spain and 20-0 against Wales.

France and England therefore would meet in Round Three as the only two undefeated sides. The match would be played at Stade Léon Sausset in Tournon-Sur-Rhone, south of Lyon. Amiel's side began at a frantic pace with wing Annabel Donnadieu scoring France's first try in the third minute. Santini converted before English fly half Shelley Rae landed a penalty, making the score 7-3 to the home side.

A converted Catherine Devilliers try from the opposite wing in the 22nd minute extended France's lead to 14-3, before England captain Paula George struck back to cut France's lead to 14-8 at half time. Rae narrowed the gap to three points with a penalty at the start of the second half but Sartini crossed the line for France's third try shortly after. Further points came from the boots of both Sartini and Rae, but the Red Roses were never able to close the gap and France secured a hard-earned 22-17 win.

Having beaten Spain and Ireland away, Scotland remained in contention for the title, if they could beat France at Inverleith in Round Four. Scotland had been competitive since Kim Littlejohn's side had won the Home Nations Championship in 1998 and were unlikely to make life easy for France on home soil. In the event Amiel's side were too strong. A 22-12 victory took them within one win of a maiden Grand Slam.

England had beaten Wales and would beat Spain in their final match, meaning that France would need to beat Ireland to confirm their place in history. Newcomers Ireland, captained by Suzanne Flemming and with Fiona Steed in the second row, hadn't featured in the any of the championships since 1999 and remained a side in development. The experienced France side took no chances and completed a 46-0 victory, in Melun, to claim the inaugural Six Nations Championship and their first championship victory.

Nathalie Amiel, 2002

Nathalie Amiel (pictured v Canada in the 2002 Rugby World Cup) would go out on a high later that year, having played 56 times for France. She would coach her national side between 2009 and 2012 and was inducted into the IRB (World Rugby) Hall of Fame in 2014. Although England struck back in 2003, France would win three out of the first four Six nations Championships. The run remains their most successful to date.