Women's Summer Series 'crucial' in shaping future stars

caroline suné
The future of women's rugby will be shaped at a highly anticipated tournament in Parma this July.

France are eagerly anticipating the Women's Summer Series, which takes place from 4th-14th July. Just before COVID, there were discussions about a tour for the women's U20s across the Atlantic, but the pandemic halted those plans.

Now, things are really happening. The inaugural development competition will bring together all Six Nations teams for three days of intense action.

The aim of the Women's Summer Series is to provide a crucial opportunity for European players to advance their rugby development, starting at the U18 level. This initiative is unique in the world game.


“For me, it can be a stepping stone,” says Caroline Suné, coach of the France U20 Women's. “I feel that Six Nations Rugby wants to use this competition to showcase the world's future players and demonstrate that women's rugby has its place on the international stage.

“I hope the level of play will lead us to go further, perhaps even to a Six Nations Championship, which could happen sooner rather than later, and a World Cup, just like the men's teams.

“For me, it's crucial. The quality of the game that is produced, the enthusiasm, can have significant consequences.”

And that's precisely the purpose of this brand-new competition. While the U20 Men's teams have the U20 Six Nations Championship, the U20 Trophy (taking place this year in Scotland), and the U20 World Championship (for the second consecutive year in South Africa), the U20 Women's teams have yet to have a competition.


And yet, much like Les Bleues in the national team, the U20s are more than ever the pioneers for the senior side, tapping into an expanding pool of talent to nurture the elite players of tomorrow.

“If we aim to elevate the level of the senior teams, it must start from the grassroots,” says the Les Bleuettes manager. “Our objective is to prepare our players for a potential future with the French national team.”

One of the crucial tasks for the future is for the women's U20s to strive for the development of a structured system within their unions. France and England have a tradition of competing at this level to acclimate their players to the highest standards and prepare them for the national team.

“We have somewhat similar profiles, even though the culture and methods of [talent identification], monitoring, work practices, and training may differ. However, we are committed to this approach because we believe that competing with the best is the pathway to improvement,” insists Suné.


The recent selection of recruits to the French senior team underscores this point. This year, six players under the age of 20 were chosen for Les Bleues ahead of the Guinness Women's Six Nations Championship.

They include prop Ambre Mwayembe (already 10 caps at the age of 20), fly-half Lina Tuy (3 caps), prop Chloé Vauclin (who spent six weeks with the team), second row Kiara Zago (3 caps at the age of 18), wing Kelly Arbey (2 caps), and wing Suliana Sivi (1 cap).

The latter four are included in the squad for the Women's Summer Series, along with Cléo Hagel (who made her debut for France Sevens in Singapore) and Zoé Jean, the captain.

“Other players have emerged, such as hooker Elisa Riffoneau [10 caps], who has been with us for two years. There's also Morgane Bourgeois [8 caps], who served as captain last year and typically plays in a dual position, 10 and 15. In the back row, we have Léa Champon [3 caps], and Lilou Graciet, who plays at centre. It's quite exceptionnal when you compare it to the proportions for the boys,” explains Suné.


The relationship between the two teams - Les Bleues and Les Bleuettes - is fluid, and strengthened by the close bond between the two main coaches, Suné and Gaëlle Mignot, who were once teammates at Montpellier.

“I believe it's a positive sign if the girls are selected for either the XV de France or France Sevens, because it indicates that we've done our job and they've done theirs," explains Suné. "While we certainly have performance goals, our primary objective is to identify and monitor them - within the limited time we have - and to endeavour to prepare them for the demands of the elite level."

She recounts an anecdote that occurred during this year's Guinness Women's Six Nations Championship. It was just before the match against Italy at Stade Jean-Bouin in Paris. The women's U20s were in the midst of preparation for their annual grudge match against England, which they won 74-0 in Rouen the following week.

The two teams decided to train together, with the XV de France fielding their starting lineup and the U20s showcasing their potential team. Suddenly, for a few minutes, the Bleuettes played in such a way that the the senior players had something of a wobble, before pulling themselves together. The senior team will have taken two things away from that game: firstly, not to take their opponents lightly, and secondly, to realise that their place in the French squad is never to be taken for granted.

Suné is pleased: “I think the girls said to themselves, 'We need to step up our game, because if we don't, we might struggle on Sunday; but more importantly, someone else could take my spot.' I thought that was great.”


For these young girls, aged between 18 and 20, playing international rugby is also a sacrifice. “It's important to remember that it's entirely amateur,” emphasises the manager.

Involving young players at any time of the year is always a challenge, particularly at the beginning of summer. Some of them are still studying and have exams that will prevent them from traveling to Parma. Others, who are already working, must negotiate with their employers for time off.

Some of the girls, like the boys, are not paid and cannot afford to make the financial sacrifice. They prefer to spend the summer working seasonal jobs to finance their next year of study.

The women's U20s will arrive at the National Rugby Centre in Marcoussis on 26th June for a training camp that runs until 2nd July, before flying to Parma to kick off their summer series against Wales two days later.

Two more matches are scheduled: against Scotland on July 9th and against England on July 14th.

With this particular age group, the staff do not emphasise results - although a victory is always welcomed. They adhere to the well-known 'I'm not losing, I'm learning' approach.

But, Suné adds in closing, “You can also learn by winning!”