The 2019 Guinness Six Nations is underway and it’s set to be an exciting tournament to watch.

Ireland started as hot favourites, but having been comprehensively defeated by England in the opening weekend, it is the men in white who are expected to be challenge. But Wales and Scotland could yet have something to say about that.

While this year in the Women’s Six Nations, the bulk of the England squad will play as full-time professionals for the first time - a landmark moment for the sport.

So, if watching stars like Johnny Sexton or Sarah Hunter has sparked some inspiration to pick up a ball yourself, here are some of the amazing things the sport has in store for you - even if you’re a total beginner.

The cardiovascular benefits are massive - and similar to HIIT

Personal trainer Luke Worthington (lukeworthington.com) says: “A match is 80-minutes long, however, if you watch it through, you’ll see that it appears to be quite stop-start, interspersing periods of explosive, high-intensity work, with resetting into set positions and periods of recovery.

“This game structure of playing from phase to phase very closely reflects the structure of the ever popular HIIT class. HIIT training is an excellent way to improve cardiovascular fitness - it’s often described as strength training for the heart.”

It will sculpt your body in ways the gym can’t

A generation of Instagrammers are changing the outdated notion that the ‘ideal’ figure is skinny - being strong is increasingly becoming the holy grail of fitness. Aside from the physical gains (toned abs, sculpted calves and a booty Kim Kardashian would be proud of), many women say there’s something really empowering about feeling strong. Playing rugby takes that one step further - imagine knowing you can take down someone running full-pelt towards you, to the ground.

“The contact nature of the sport means that core strength is paramount; lifting, twisting, pushing, pulling are integral parts of the game,” says Worthington.”Your body will encounter multiple plane resistance work that will far outweigh anything you can replicate with a set of dumbbells.”

It’s a sport for all body types

Rugby is unique in the way it has so many different positions. Almost everyone on the pitch has a completely different role and responsibility, each of which demands different physical attributes and body types. Those in the scrum tend to be strong in the shoulders, upper body and legs, the number eight and centre positions need good speed, the scrum-half will have good vision and quick reactions, and the fly-half is the team’s best kicker.

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Maggie Alphonsi, one of the best-known names in women’s rugby, having played for England and the Saracens as a flanker, before retiring in 2015, says rugby is an inclusive sport for many reasons, but particularly when it comes to body type. “It’s very much a sport for all - whatever your size, shape, height - there’s a position for you. I’m big and I’m strong, with a bit of pace, but maybe in other sports, I wouldn’t really excel.”

What you learn on the pitch can help you off it, too

As we all know, sport has far more than just physical benefits.

“The most important thing that physical fitness, and sports like rugby, teaches you is to feel confident in yourself,” Alphonsi, also a spokesperson for Vitality, says.

“You’ll learn everything from a sense of discipline, to what to eat, to how to conduct yourself - on and off the field.“Rugby has helped me become more resilient, find solutions to problems, and taught me how to overcome failure.”

It could help reduce your risk of injury

It might come as a surprise, but rugby could help you get injured less off the pitch and improve bone density, Worthington says. “Agility and proprioceptive awareness, developed from the specific training and randomness of gameplay, is an excellent way to reduce injury risk in everyday life.

“Most sprains and twists come from a lack of strength in a particular plane of motion, accompanied by an unexpected movement (stepping off a kerb, for example).”

He does say though that ‘random’ motion sports like rugby shouldn’t be your sole method of strength training, and high-intensity training should be interspersed with low-intensity exercise and active recovery sessions.

Stereotypes are shifting

Unfortunately, women’s rugby has long-faced stereotypes, namely that the sport isn’t seen as feminine or that it’s dangerous, creating barriers to women playing. It’s also not traditionally been offered to girls to play at school.“A lot of sports which are perceived to be male-dominated have certain stereotypes - but that’s changing,” Alphonsi says.

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“It’s a safe sport and it’s continuing to develop, to protect the people who play it. If you’re worried, talk to other people who play or go and watch a game.

“There are much more women playing the sport now, and there’s a diverse range of people, from different backgrounds. People are seeing role models in the sport who are like them.”

The women’s game is exactly the same as the men’s

Something that may appeal to lots of women is the equality in the game itself (although TV, media coverage and pay hasn’t caught up yet).

It’s one of the few sports in which no allowances are made for female players - both the men’s and women’s games are 80 minutes, full contact and have exactly the same rules.

Alphonsi says: “When I see a tackle, I see a tackle - it’s not a ‘men’s tackle’. When people watch a game of women’s rugby, they often say, ‘I love the way you [the players] tackle hard’. There’s a level of equality about rugby, people don’t see gender or colour, they see a rugby player.”

There are non-contact versions too

If you’ve never picked up a rugby ball in your life and want to give it a go, check out Rugby Football Union (englandrugby.com), the IRFU (irishrugby.ie), Wales Rugby Union (wru.co.uk) or Scottish Rugby (scottishrugby.org) depending on where you live, to find out if your local club has a women’s team.

Maggie Alphonsi is director of the VitalityHealth Performance Champions programme, a new workplace wellbeing initiative building healthier, more engaged and productive workforces with the help of top former UK athletes.