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'We will create a legacy for women’s rugby in England and the home nations'

By PA
Marlie Packer of England leads a team talk as the players form a huddle at full-time following the team's victory in the Guinness Women's Six Nations 2024 match between England and Wales at Ashton Gate on March 30, 2024 in Bristol, England. (Photo by Harry Trump - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

England’s Red Roses are set to begin almost a year-long countdown to the 2025 World Cup by hosting fierce rivals New Zealand and France in September.

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Rugby Football Union chief executive Bill Sweeney has confirmed the fixtures will be part of the build-up towards the WXV1 tournament in Canada later this year, when England will defend their title.

New Zealand are currently ranked second in the world, with France third, and the games will give an early form guide, not only for WXV1, but the World Cup, which England will host.

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Sweeney was speaking during an event at North Bristol Rugby Club, which marked 500 days before the World Cup kicks off and helped celebrate what he described as a “transformational” legacy programme for the tournament that could help the RFU achieve its ambition of 100,000 female players by 2027.

More than £12million has already been committed to Impact ’25 by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

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Funding began during the 2022-23 season and over £3million has so far been invested in 655 clubs nationwide, with more than 1,200 coaches and match officials supported, and almost 350 clubs have received grants to start under-12s activity.

Sweeney said: “We expect to go from 40,000 players to 100,000 players by 2027, and we’ve also got targets on the number of match officials, coaches and volunteers we get to.

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“It was a conscious decision when we were talking with World Rugby and the UK Government about bidding for the World Cup that we wanted to take it around the country and we’ve got eight venues.

“It is a really good opportunity to showcase the game across the country.

“If you look at women’s sport, what’s happening with the Lionesses in football and you see it across cricket as well, it is here to stay and we need to make sure it grows as quickly as possible.”

Delivered by the RFU in partnership with UK Government, Sport England and UK Sport, the RFU says that Impact ’25 is designed to “super-charge” the growth of women’s and girls’ rugby.

The programme will provide substantial improvements in facilities and greater opportunities for females at all levels of the game in England.

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A range of support is being offered to clubs across four key pillars – facility development, coaches and match officials, playing and volunteering and community and fan engagement.

The 2025 World Cup kicks off on August 22 and will be played out in London, Brighton, Bristol, Exeter, Manchester, Northampton, Sunderland and York.

Twickenham will stage the final, with an ambition of breaking the current world record attendance of 58,498 for a women’s Test match set last year when England played France.

Sweeney added: “The opportunity to grow the women’s and girls’ game was a primary driver behind our bid to host Women’s Rugby World Cup 2025.

“We are very grateful to Government for committing funding to this transformational programme as part of the tournament.

“Working together with Government, UK Sport, Sport England and World Rugby we will create a legacy for women’s rugby in England and the home nations, both in terms of attracting more fans and people to play, coach, officiate and volunteer.

“We are already seeing huge strides forward being made thanks to Impact ‘25, and look forward to seeing further progress over the coming months and years.”

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