by Brendan Cole
Grand Slam winning Ireland captain Fiona Coghlan has joined a chorus of voices firmly opposed to a proposal that would see the Women’s Six Nations changed into a two-tier tournament.
Less than three weeks after Ireland’s historic Slam, a plan to change the structure of the tournament has been floated by the Welsh and Scottish Unions.
The Six Nations Board is due to discuss the issue tomorrow and it is understood Scotland are currently the only Union in favour of the proposals.
Such a change would make achievements like Ireland’s first ever Triple Crown and Grand Slam impossible to emulate in future.
Coghlan first heard about the threat to the Championship via the Scrumqueens website. The story has since gained traction elsewhere, prompting a House of Parliament Committee to contact the Unions involved in running the Women’s Six Nations.
Ireland manager Philip Doyle has already stated his opposition, and Coghlan is of similar mind.
She said: "The RBS 6 Nations is the premier annual 15-a-side women’s tournament in the world and to see it change from its current format could potentially destroy the growth of the 15-a-side game.
"As a player, you want to play the best teams in the world and see where you stand against them. I understand some of the unions are concerned about the score-lines but you only get better by playing better opposition.
"Ten years ago we were on the receiving end of numerous hammerings but we learned from those and we got stronger."
Major efforts have been made to bring the women’s competition into line with the men’s since 2007, with RBS coming on board as a title sponsor, and the same schedule adopted – but a change now could see the progress that has been made go to waste.
Coghlan added: "Once these decisions are made it is very hard to change them back again. The Six Nations is a special tournament that everyone, players and supporters look forward to every spring.
"Young people grow up with the Six Nations, it is the rugby they see on the TV and in the paper and it is something that they can aspire to."
Sevens has become a bigger priority for some unions, with Olympic status at the Rio De Janeiro games in 2016 driving investment and interest around the world.
Coghlan believes striking the right balance is key, and that the 15-a-side game provides opportunities for more people.
"There is a lot of focus on sevens rugby at the moment which is a great opportunity, but sevens requires a very specific type of athlete.
"The 15-a-side game that can be all inclusive for all shapes and sizes so for mass participation purposes I see the 15-a-side game as the ideal game for the majority."
Coghlan and most of the rest of the squad have been enjoying the Slam success and a warm reception from the public since landing the coveted prize three weeks ago, though some of the squad have been busy playing in Hong Kong and China at Sevens events.
Pre-season will recommence in a few weeks with a long 2014 season that will include the 15-a-side Women’s Rugby World Cup in August and the Sevens World Cup in June.
A defence of the Grand Slam should also be on the cards in the springtime, but despite the strength of the opposition to change it is not clear yet what the nature of the next Women’s Six Nations competition will be.