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Smaller balls to be a game-changer in women's game?

SPOTLIGHT: England women’s coach John Mitchell believes smaller balls could be a valuable recruitment tool for women’s rugby.

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World Rugby, the sport’s global governing body, is to analyse data collected from a trial at the recent Six Nations Under-18s Women’s Festival, as well as from the training sessions of three Celtic Challenge teams.

There has long been a debate about whether a smaller and lighter ball would benefit the women’s game.

The current size five ball is the same as that used in men’s rugby, with the trial testing a size 4.5 ball – approximately three percent smaller and four percent lighter.

“We use the big ball and we’re quite happy with that,” Mitchell said on Wednesday.

“When the smaller ball arrives, we’ll deal with that. But if I put my development hat on, these young girls have been exposed to a big ball their whole life.”

The New Zealander, a former head coach of the men’s All Blacks, added: “If you’ve got younger girls wanting to come into the game and you have smaller communities that don’t have the ability to play 15s but could do a lot more in school yards with smaller balls, if that gives them confidence to play the game then I’m all for it.”

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Zoe Aldcroft, who replaces Marlie Packer as England captain for the champions’ Six Nations match away to Scotland on Saturday, said: “We haven’t had many issues so far with a size five, but we’ll go ahead and see what the 4.5 ball will do.”

England have won the Women’s Six Nations for five successive years, with only a change in format for the Covid-hit 2021 tournament preventing them completing a Grand Slam on each occasion.

They have started their title defence with crushing victories over Italy (48-0) and Wales (46-10).

But Mitchell has dropped Packer from the England starting side for the first time since she took over the captaincy a year ago, while experienced centre Emily Scarratt was omitted completely for a second straight game.

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“There’s no such thing as rotation,” said Mitchell. “This squad is selected for Scotland. Anyone is capable of replacing anyone, as far as I see it.”

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