When Nick Heath started commentating on women’s rugby nearly a decade ago, he was largely a lone voice.
Media coverage back in 2012 was sparse to say the least but nowadays interest has grown significantly and he does not enjoy the freedom of the press box anymore.
Scheduling the Women’s Six Nations 2021 in its own standalone slot in April has removed the tournament from the shadow of the men’s event and encouraged more media organisations to cover it.
“I was just checking in an old diary as to when my commentary started and I was doing (women’s) Six Nations games highlights for a company in 2012, so I realised this was actually my 10th Six Nations,” said Heath.
“From the broadcast side, having worked on the Championship for that long and having been at games, as it has developed, as the only commentator on the scene with, probably, only two or three journalists in attendance, to have been at the final and for there to be two TV commentary teams (BBC and world feed), a BBC radio commentary team and two or three rows of journalists who were there to cover it, just kind of shows you how far it has come.
“There is an awful lot of merit in the Women’s Six Nations maintaining its place in its own window. It has just allowed for so much more focus. I have been on Zoom press conferences throughout the Championship where I have seen faces of more traditional journalists popping up, which has clearly given it much wider coverage, which is fantastic.
“Whether the teams are amateur or pro, there is absolutely no difference in the commitment that the athletes are putting in so you would like this to be reflected in there being little difference in how matches are being reported. We have certainly seen a real increase.”
Like many of the players on show in the Women’s Six Nations 2021, Heath would love to be in New Zealand next year to call the action at Rugby World Cup 2021.
“I feel for the French, they are right up there. It was a final with two teams you could barely split and they just ended up on the wrong side again,” said Heath.
“There must be certain players on that side, Madoussou Fall and maybe the 21-year-old Rose Bernadou, wondering what you have to do to beat England. They lost to a clock-in-the-red penalty in the second test against England in November and then England only squeaked past them again (on Saturday).
“While it was maybe not the champagne final that we were all after, it was certainly attritional and engrossing for 80 minutes.
“Are we looking at a World Cup scenario in 2022 where anyone other than England can beat New Zealand?” pondered Heath.
“You’d probably say that France are up there and could, and Canada are an improving side, certainly by the strength of some of their internationals they’ve got playing in the Premier 15s, which is great to see.
“But from what I hear coming out of the England camp, Simon Middleton wants his team to play at such an intensity and high tempo that they are the leaders in the world game in that sense.
“They want to be able to leave teams like the Black Ferns trailing in their wake, because ultimately, that’s who they know they have got to beat.”