RWC 2025: 'Fantastic to see matches moved outside of traditional rugby hotbeds'
Today, the stadium locations for the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2025 have been announced. The tournament, which is going to be held in England in a couple of years’ time is sure to be incredible and hopefully a memorable one for all rugby fans.
There are eight host locations with the tournament spread out around England. These include: Brighton and Hove –Brighton and Hove Stadium, Bristol – Ashton Gate, Exeter – Sandy Park, London – Twickenham Stadium, Manchester – Salford Community Stadium (*subject to final confirmation), Northampton – Franklin’s Gardens, Sunderland – Stadium of Light and York – York Community Stadium.
Given the recently played out narrative in the Premier 15s (now called Premiership Women’s Rugby), of Sale Sharks eventually being admitted into the top tier after initially missing out and the knock on conversation of the positive effect of having elite rugby spread around the country, especially in the north, I believe the same is true on the geographical spread of the World Cup matches.
It’s fantastic to see matches moved outside of traditional rugby hotbeds, but the RFU and World Rugby have also done well to stay within old territories. I believe reaching the already converted and those with the potential to have their eyes opened to the game is what is needed for growing women’s rugby in England.
Brighton and Hove – Brighton and Hove Stadium
Last year, the Lionesses played Spain in the EURO semi-finals in front of a crowd of over 28,000 at Brighton and Hove Stadium. The atmosphere was electric and the look of the stadium that night was pretty epic – spine tingling. In 2025, it will be hosting women’s rugby instead.
Brighton is traditionally more of a football city with a Premiership team and a big fan base, so it begs the question, will we see a record breaking crowd and a similar atmosphere when Rugby World Cup 2025 comes to town? Only time will tell!
Bristol – Ashton Gate
The stadium which is home to Bristol Bears men’s team has a capacity of 27,000 and is another one of the locations the RFU have selected to host women’s rugby.
One can only hope young girls and boys will be inspired by the World Cup action on their door step – as they say, if you can’t see it, you can’t be it. By widely publicising female athletes in rugby, young girls are being given the power to envision themselves performing in those roles.
Major sporting events can be used to engage inactive audiences if athletes are being given the chance to perform in front of huge crowds and on big stages. This then creates a wider social and economic impact and a lasting legacy for any tournament.
In front of a crowd of 11,691 at Ashton Gate in Bristol, the Red Roses were well supported within the Bristol community when they played there back in 2021 against Wales in their Rugby World Cup warm-up match.
When this game was played, they also had a strong contingency of Welsh supporters because geographically, they are close. Welsh fans have easy access to games. Therefore, you’d expect crowd numbers to be high in this rugby hotbed.
Furthermore, Bristol Bears Women finished fourth in last year’s Premiership Women’s Rugby campaign – they are a successful top four Premiership outfit. The crowds they attracted at Shaftsbury Avenue in recent seasons will hopefully help engage fans further in the sport come 2025.
Exeter – Sandy Park
Despite the South West of England being a rugby heartland, Exeter are the only Premiership club in the area so naturally attract a good support. One of the smaller clubs in the Premiership, Exeter’s ground holds 12,800 seats. Exeter Chiefs Women were founded in 2019, yet already are making a name for themselves with their international signings and having reached the Premiership Women’s Rugby Final in the past two years.
Exeter College has a strong link with the Chiefs women’s team and provides aspiring local and talented female rugby players the chance to nurture not only their rugby talent, but also receive first-class education and training with the Premier 15s club coaches and teaching staff.
This clear pathway offers a tangible way for players to play at the highest level in the south of England, and who knows, a young girl’s love of the sport might be sparked by her county supporting and hosting world class players who act as role models for future engagement or participation. Hopefully it will inspire more girls to pick up a rugby ball when Sandy Park hosts the World Cup.
London – Twickenham Stadium
On the 29th April this year, we saw 58,498 fans support the Red Roses’ against France in the final round of the Six Nations. Super Saturday saw the Red Roses record a 38-33 win against their oldest rivals. I was fortunate enough to be in the press box covering the game and it was a really proud day for everyone involved in the occasion. Seeing thousands of young boys and girls witness a women’s rugby match on home turf was something special.
Hopefully, it won’t be too long before we see the stadium sell out entirely – I really think this can happen. And what better place to host the World Cup final than at the home of England Rugby? If almost 60,000 fans have already attended a standalone women’s fixture, I don’t see why they can’t sell out Twickenham in two years’ time for a World Cup Final?
The standard of rugby is improving dramatically and more nations are earning professional contracts. This is what will attract more and more fans according to England captain Marlie Packer: “The future for women’s rugby is exciting. I want to sell out Twickenham and I believe we can at the Rugby World Cup final. The other nations, they’re all closing the gap. They’re all getting professional contracts. The quality of rugby you’re getting to see across the game is what will allow more tickets to sell out come 2025”.
Manchester – Salford Community Stadium
I think this was a very shrewd move from the RFU to select Manchester as host for a Women’s Rugby World Cup game. As aforementioned in this piece, earlier this year, it was strongly recommended by the RFU and Women’s Premier 15 Ltd (WP15) that a greater geographical spread should be provided in the league despite Sale’s initial application being rejected in December 2022.
Now, having has their application approved, Sale Sharks Women will be able to continue to provide northern representation in Premiership Women’s Rugby. Back in February, Sale launched the ‘Northern Rugby Matters’ campaign in a bid to increase awareness and celebrate rugby in the region, and also raise important funding for Sale Sharks Women.
CEO Michelle Orange has been influential in supporting the women’s game and I have no doubt she will continue during the World Cup campaign. Through Sale’s community programmes including Mission Sharks Primary and Girls Tackle Rugby, as well as the Women’s Centre of Excellence, they want to provide opportunities for women and girls across the region to play rugby. This puts the club and city in good stead for supporting the women come 2025.
Northampton – cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens
Back in the Autumn of 2021, Franklin’s Gardens hosted a women’s rugby game for the first time. 10,000 fans were there to witness the Red Roses take on the Black Ferns and the atmosphere was spectacular.
The game was well supported within the community and earlier this year, the Red Roses returned during the Six Nations to play Italy. The match was a brilliant occasion and there were even more fans in attendance. All the work Saints are doing to try to develop women’s rugby in the East Midlands is important and having that link with Loughborough Lightning is key as it’s inspiring more young girls and boys to pick up a rugby ball.
Sunderland – Stadium of Light
Personally, I think this is a great spot for attracting new fans. Look at how many outstanding England players have come from up north. We’ve just had England’s most capped player and proud northerner Sarah Hunter retire recently.
Other players from the north include Tatyana Heard, Zoe Aldcroft and Ellie Kildunne (to name a few). It is massively important for a place like Sunderland to continue to represent the north and engage new fans in the sport. It’s about showcasing what the game has to offer. The majority of the 42,000 people who attended the Rugby World Cup Final at Eden Park last year were not just new to women’s rugby but rugby itself! It’s about spreading the message of when and where these matches are happening, developing the game in other cities and giving people a chance to watch something new.
York – York Community Stadium
Opened in 2021, York Community Stadium is the last venue on the list to host a Rugby World Cup game. At a capacity of 8,500, it is the smallest stadium to be hosting a game. Though this could be seen as an advantage if fans can fill it completely and make their voices heard! Hopefully, like Sunderland, it will attract people who have never watched rugby before.
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