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Red Roses doing their bit to fill Twickenham's green seats

By Martyn Thomas
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 20: England's Maddie Feaunati scores a try for England during the Guinness Women's Six Nations 2024 match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium on April 20, 2024 in London, England.(Photo by Bob Bradford - CameraSport via Getty Images)

During his embryonic reign as England coach John Mitchell has made no secret of his desire to help the Red Roses sell out Twickenham; to “fill the top green seats” as the Kiwi has often put it.

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Mitchell once again returned to this theme in the wake of his side’s Guinness Women’s Six Nations victory against Ireland at the home of English rugby last Saturday.

It was a performance that managed to be both routine and crushing as the Red Roses toyed with the Irish in front of 48,778 fans, pulling their defensive line so far out of shape that holes appeared at alarming regularity.

By the full-time whistle the hosts had breached the try-line 14 times, including four in the final 13 minutes, as Abby Dow and player of the match Ellie Kildunne helped themselves to a hat-trick apiece.

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Exactly how beneficial a hit-out it proves on the road to Bordeaux, and England’s Grand Slam decider with France this Saturday, remains to be seen. But Mitchell was adamant on Saturday that his side had found a new gear.

And according to the Kiwi head coach this was the type of performance that England need to put in on a consistent basis if they are to force the Rugby Football Union (RFU) to open all three of Twickenham’s green-seated tiers.

That is an ambition shared, of course, both by those in the corridors of power at the RFU and by the organisers of Women’s Rugby World Cup 2025, who hope to be able to put the sold-out signs up along Whitton Road well in advance of the tournament’s final.

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Certainly, there was no sign on Saturday night that the majority of those who had arrived in Twickenham from late morning and had filled the town’s many pubs and cafes were going home in anything other than buoyant mood.

The RFU are said to be very happy with the number of fans who clicked through the turnstiles, and they have every reason to be. Saturday’s match was always going to be a harder sell than last year’s standalone fixture in south-west London purely because of the lack of jeopardy attached to it.

It is far easier to build hype and interest around a genuinely competitive match with a Grand Slam on the line, as was the case when 58,498 people turned up to watch England beat France 12 months ago, than for a contest in which the home team is expected to – and does – canter to victory.

Indeed, speaking earlier this month, RFU CEO Bill Sweeney admitted that the rate of ticket sales for the Ireland match was “probably more pleasing” than the world-record crowd against Les Bleues.

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“I think that’s a real testament to the fans liking the experience,” Sweeney, who was in attendance on Saturday, added.

“The fans are really connected to the Red Roses. They want to follow their success; they want to follow their journey.”

It was imperative therefore that the RFU staged at least one of England’s Women’s Six Nations 2024 home matches at Twickenham; to both continue to nurture and grow that fanbase and to give the players more exposure to playing on that stage.

No one should forget that this was only the second time the Red Roses had played a standalone fixture at Twickenham – two-try heroine Megan Jones among those who had never experienced it previously.

Playing in front of big crowds is starting to become the norm for England, but skipper Marlie Packer had some simple words of advice to those players whose first taste of the iconic old stadium came during Friday’s captain’s run.

“Enjoy it,” she told her team-mates. “It will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand out and it’s a really special occasion, just take it in.”

Packer and England will get two more opportunities to walk onto Twickenham’s hallowed turf as the headline act this September when France and New Zealand come to town.

The size of the crowds for those two matches, a year out from the World Cup final, should prove a useful barometer for the prospect of Twickenham selling out for the showpiece match.

It will be interesting to see whether playing top-quality opposition on consecutive weekends drives ticket sales or splits the fanbase, but the RFU will be hoping for another record crowd.

Mitchell and his players can certainly do no more as they attempt to fill those green seats.

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