SJA Sports Team of the Year: The case for England Rugby’s Red Roses

SJA members can vote now to decide the winners of three major categories at the Awards, to be held at The Kia Oval in London on Thursday 7 December; Jake Wightman, Beth Mead and the Lionesses claimed the equivalent 2022 honours; who will take the top prizes this year? Voting deadline is 15 November…

By Will Castle

After a year defined by redemption and success, England’s Red Roses have more than earned their place as a leading candidate to be named the SJA Team of the Year.

It’s been a time of seismic progress for women’s rugby, as airtime and opportunities for players are taking a sharp and timely upturn.

This has especially been the case in the international sphere, with the introduction of World Rugby’s game-changing WXV tournament providing fans with greater opportunities to see the world’s best teams compete on the global stage.

And as interest in women’s rugby continues to soar, the Red Roses have consolidated their place as the World Rugby number ones, capping off a triumphant year with the inaugural WXV title.

England went into 2023 off the back of heartbreak, having been narrowly edged out in the 2022 Women’s Rugby World Cup final by New Zealand.

However, instead of letting failure define their future, it only seemed to add fuel to the still-roaring fire.

The Roses bounced back with a vengeance in the 2023 Women’s Six Nations, defending their crown from the year prior in compelling fashion.

Simon Middleton’s side clinched their 17th Grand Slam to retain their title, demonstrating the gulf in quality between them and their competition throughout.

The Roses condemned Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy to outright thrashings – scoring a minimum of 48 points in each, and conceding no more than seven down the other end.

It was Middleton’s final act as England head coach, as he stepped down after fulfilling his Six Nations duties.

“Representing England in a coaching or playing capacity must be the pinnacle of any sporting career and I can’t put into words how proud and fortunate I’ve been to be able to do this for the last nine years,” Middleton said, reflecting on his departure.

Replacing him in the hot seat – albeit temporarily as interim coach – was former England lock Louis Deacon.

Deacon then led the Roses into the inaugural WXV – a three-tier competition devised by World Rugby to ensure that women’s international teams are involved in competitive action year-round.

Playing in the top tier, WXV 1, the Red Roses went on to comfortably beat Australia and Canada – before overpowering New Zealand 33-12 in Auckland to claim the title.

Twelve months after suffering World Cup despair against the same side, in the same city, England avenged their loss to the All Blacks to reign supreme.

Replacing the harsh memories from a year prior, the Red Roses now stand decorated in silverware.

England are back on top of the women’s rugby world – and as a result, there’s no choice more fitting to be named the SJA Team of the Year.

Sports journalist Will Castle is a member of the SJA Academy – find out more about membership here.