RWC 2025: 'The way the game is going, filling out Twickenham is 100% achievable'
It will be 15 years since England hosted the last Women’s Rugby World Cup, and the transformation of the game since then is quite significant. If I think back to where we were playing when it was last in England, it was at Surrey Sports Park in Guildford.
They had a temporary stand and people watching either sat on the banks or stood around the ends of the pitch, whereas if you look at this year’s TikTok Six Nations, England sold out Kingsholm, and there was a record crowd at Leicester Tigers. The whole set up and exposure of the tournament will be vastly improved.
We know that in England there are huge participation numbers and for that to then link in to watching Rugby World Cup games, it’s huge. You just have to think about what this means for the pool stages, so many people who have never been to a Rugby World Cup game will suddenly have it on their doorstep. In England at the moment we’re bringing in constant crowds, whether that’s domestic or internationally, so think of where that’s going to be if you fast forward to three year’s time, it’s so exciting.
From a club point of view, if you think how many fans watch Harlequins each week and Bristol Bears who had 4,000 last week, the Premier 15s attendances are continually growing through increased standards, exposure and interest. Next year you’d expect crowds will be doubled, and so on for the following year, and if we have thousands of people watching women’s club rugby on a weekly basis and all of those come together for a Rugby World Cup, the way the game is going at the moment, filling out Twickenham Stadium for the final is 100% achievable.
I was commentating on England against South Africa for the men’s autumn internationals at Twickenham last November and took my headphones off during the anthems and in my mind I put myself at the Women’s World Cup final and thinking this could be the atmosphere for 2025, this is what it could feel and be like, I don’t think I’ve ever done that before as I could never have imagined it, but now I can.
I think the timing of the tournament is so right. From every element of the women’s game which has been going on in the last two years, the growth of the Premier 15s, the new contracts for teams and players, stronger infrastructure in national set ups, but also all these insights happening in women’s game, like the review of Wales, Ireland and New Zealand, unions are being held to account like never before and people are asking serious questions, if those things aren’t happening then we can’t move forwards.
The Rugby World Cup will be heading to England, Australia and USA! ?
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) May 13, 2022
I think the competition of the global game in three year’s time will be significantly different. The likes of Italy, introducing professional contracts, Wales doing the same, Scotland are in talks and the more that unions make moves and professionalise their set ups, the more it makes others think they can’t not do anything anymore.
Everyone knows it’s between England and France and perhaps an outside chance for New Zealand this October. There will be competitive games with every team below them when they play each other, however, will they be able to push the top teams like the Red Roses or the Black Ferns? Not to a winning margin I don’t think.
However, if you fast forward to 2025 it’ll be very different, I think you’ll be looking at 6-8 teams who could get to the semi-finals. Putting England, France and New Zealand to one side, you’ve got the USA who’ll be hosting the tournament in 2033, they have half of their team playing in a semi-professional set up in England, think about where they are going to be in three year’s time with those players and those learnings.
Then Canada who have always been a physical, strong, athletic country when it comes to rugby but have never had the infrastructure and a handful of them are also playing over in the Premier 15s. Japan are also growing in strength having beaten Fiji and Australia in the last few weeks and France and their elite domestic programme is only going to get stronger as their player pool is very young, so for these reasons all games will be more competitive.
I don’t think we can fully blame the unions for the lack of competition at the moment either, due to the pandemic some countries couldn’t play rugby for two years. For example, Australia’s game against Fiji was the first time they’d played a Test match in two and a half years. It’s about the playing opportunities countries have had, which was also reflected by New Zealand’s results last autumn.
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) May 12, 2022
The WXV global competition will also play a huge part for countries to get their act together. In the competition you qualify through your region, so unions are going to have to invest all year round if they want to qualify. The competition makes things meaningful when it comes to World Cup qualification.
Teams like Ireland you would expect to be at a World Cup and the fact that they’re not is such a huge wake up call to get their programme right. Unions need to think where they can be in three year’s time and if they invest now, they can make strides and be competitive at the 2025 World Cup and move on from there.
Right here, right now, England know how far ahead they are and they want to take the responsibility to support other nations and allow the Premier 15s league to be running the way it is where multiple internationals can come into a team. Look at Exeter with their wealth of overseas talent and how they’ve shaken up the league by making the play-offs.
The RFU knows international players strengthens their product on the field as if it wasn’t competitive and only Saracens and Harlequins had a chance of winning the trophy you ask yourself whether the BBC would have signed the broadcasting deal or whether Allianz would have come on as a sponsor? It’s in the best interest of the league but also the best interest for the global game. That’s a big thing in the women’s game, unions are prepared to work together to find solutions for the greater good.
But at what point does that then hinder the young talent England have coming through? For example, if Harlequins players from the Centre of Excellence are not getting game time, or only 20 minutes off the bench because the team sheet is filled with overseas international players, that could be a whole season a player hasn’t experienced elite level rugby. That’s perhaps acceptable when your England team is full of youth, talent and depth but when those players move on or become senior players, have you then got the seamlessness of players continuing to come through? Is that when England put a quota and say only a certain number of internationals can be part to a matchday squad?
Other unions will have to sort out their own domestic leagues and stop the reliance on the Premier 15s in order to improve the competition of the international scene. Your domestic league underpins your international programme. For so long, there was 40-50 players in England that got better every year because they were exposed to a high-performance environment, quality coaching, quality facilities and that was great for those players who were in the England set up but very hard for anyone outside of that to progress or get better or even get a look in from coaches. But now a number of England players such as Shaunagh Brown, Connie Powell, Maud Muir and Lucy Packer were picked up by England because the domestic set up allowed them to thrive and be able to showcase themselves.
Having a strong club scene also keeps your players in the country which reduces the travel load on players but also supports and inspires local girls and enables you to gather an aspirational following.
For example, Spain’s Patricia Garcia who plays for Exeter, half of her followers will never see her actually play so you lose that inspirational link but if she’s able to play in a top league in Spain, then she’s inspiring all of her local girls. It’s not just about it being great for those players who can stay in their home country, but it’s about what it’s building and the legacy you’re creating for the game.
We now have girls who want to play for Harlequins and as little as five years ago we wouldn’t have had that, they would just want to play for their local rugby club. However, now they see what they can be and what the league has to offer, but you need that on a global scale. Even if this happened within Europe, other women’s competitions might be able to get off the ground such as something similar to EPCR’s Heineken Champions Cup.
Quins played Leinster a few years ago and that got people talking about why there isn’t a European league in the women’s game, but I think that will come later when countries like Ireland, Scotland, Spain and Wales have stronger club sides.
Join free and tell us what you really think!Join Free