#SJA2022: The case for England’s Red Roses

Ahead of the members vote for the Sports Journalists’ Association British Sports Awards, we asked members of the SJA Academy to make their case for contenders to win sportsman, sportswoman and team of the year. ELISE HAMERSLEY with the case for England’s Red Roses, so narrowly beaten in this weekend’s Rugby World Cup final in Auckland.

England’s Red Roses have sent tumbling records for both wins and crowd attendance; all while catapulting women’s rugby union into the spotlight it has sought and deserved for years.

Simon Middleton’s squad spent 2022 extending their winning streak to a world record-breaking 30 on the trot, more than any other men’s or women’s rugby union team.

And while it was to end in heartache in the World Cup final against New Zealand’s Black Ferns, there was a lot of pride too in the most narrow of defeats.

Their year started by securing a 16th Grand Slam in the Women’s Six Nations, having beaten every side by 52 points on average. An English women’s record home attendance of 15,836 was also achieved against Ireland at Welford Road.

Shortly after this, the world number one side delivered a triumphant performance in the summer, displaying dominance in both World Cup warm-up games against the USA and Wales.

This set them up perfectly to enter the Rugby World Cup as clear favourites to take home the silverware in New Zealand.

England have continued their unbeaten run throughout the tournament, showing their ability to excel against the Southern Hemisphere as well as their familiar European rivals.

There have been dominant performances, with an 84-19 win over Fiji and a 75-0 win over South Africa. 

But there have also been tight, hard-fought affairs that have set the tournament alight, with a 13-7 win over France and a gripping 26-19 semi-final victory over Canada. 

This England team is unique in its combination of seasoned, elite players such as Emily Scarratt, Marlie Packer and Sarah Hunter, who recently took up the mantle as the most capped English rugby player, and young talent, having turned out 19 world cup debutants.

The next cycle of expertise takes the form of Zoe Harrison, Sadia Kabeya and last year’s World Rugby Player of the Year, Zoe Aldcroft to name a few.

The Roses’ success this year, however, derives not only from outstanding results and the cultivation of world-class players, but the impact they have made on a generation of women and girls.

Thanks to their achievements, they will inspire and influence participation in, and the quality of, women’s rugby for years to come.

England have compelled change through their excellence:

For the first time this year, every Women’s Six Nations game was available to watch on the BBC. The tournament also obtained a title sponsor, TikTok, dramatically increasing media coverage and exposure of the women’s game.

This progress can in part be attributed to the path England has paved in demonstrating the viability of women’s rugby as a financial venture for companies and investors.

Their dominance has also directly contributed to the increased professionalisation of the home nations this year, with Wales and Scotland each handing out full-time contracts.

Quite simply, other nations have been driven to fully invest in their women’s programmes if they want to compete with England.

The Red Roses’ record-breaking presence in our sporting landscape this year has prompted positive change, broken numerous glass ceilings and in doing so – shown a generation of female athletes how the impossible becomes possible.

Full members can vote here for their full choice.