England women's flanker Alex Matthews (R)
London (AFP) - England flanker Alex Matthews on Wednesday said she expects the upcoming women’s Six Nations to be the highest quality edition so far as more teams become professional.
England have been the dominant force in recent seasons, with five titles in six years and four Grand Slams.
But Matthews and her team-mates have enjoyed a huge advantage over their rivals given the majority of England players have been professional since 2019.
England went on a 30-match unbeaten run before suffering an agonising World Cup final defeat by hosts New Zealand in November.
“All these nations have become professional,” Matthews told the BBC at the launch of the championship.
“In a couple of years’ time, this year maybe, they are going to be at the same standard – so how can we keep pushing on and being better?
“This is going to be the best Six Nations yet with everyone having those opportunities to better themselves.”
The 2023 edition marks the end of Simon Middleton’s eight-year reign as England head coach, which includes two World Cup final losses to New Zealand.
But the 57-year-old could yet bow out in style, with England finishing their campaign against France at Twickenham on April 29.
“Playing a stand-alone Test at Twickenham is a real marker of where the game is at,” Middleton told englandrugby.com, with 35,000 tickets already sold.
“The target for the 2025 Rugby World Cup is to sell out Twickenham for the final and it is fantastic to draw such a great crowd two years in advance.”
France finished third at the World Cup and pushed England hard during a 13-7 group defeat in Whangarei.
French players have contracts described as 75 percent professional, while Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Italy have also handed out deals during the past year.
The tournament starts on March 25, when England face Scotland in Newcastle.