By Rugby World reader, Larissa Falls
Six Nations…England v France. A fixture supporters would automatically and subconsciously equate with being held at Twickenham…right. England the home side, therefore HQ must be the venue…not so for the England Women’s team. Two of their three matches so far in this year’s Six Nations tournament have been home games, yet neither has been staged at ‘The Home of English Rugby.’ Gary Street’s team has instead had to play host to Italy at Esher, and France at Sixways; a far cry from the illustrious stadium their male counterparts occupy.
Yet, that all changes this weekend when England women will verse the Scot’s on the hallowed Twickenham turf, being the match which will succeed the men’s Calcutta Cup clash. And a concept which follows in the footsteps of the notable and successful 2009 autumn initiative when we witnessed France Women play Canada at the Stade de France and England Women face New Zealand at Twickenham after the men’s matches.
This notion of holding Women’s games at the conclusion of the men’s, should be readily considered and (hopefully) implemented by all Six Nation Unions to help in the greater exposure and expansion of the women’s game.
The crowds that attended the Women’s World Cup last year came in their droves, making each day a sell out, with the final between England and New Zealand amassing 13,000 loud and proud, passionate and enthusiastic supporters who packed the Twickenham Stoop to the rafters.
Sky Sports must also be applauded for covering the World Cup live and streaming the games hard hits and slick handling skills into millions of homes and pub haunts.
We’ve already seen the impact that televising and hosting the Women’s World Cup has had on rugby for women. Just recently the Pat Marshall winner, Maggie ‘The Machine’ Alphonsi stated “We now get more media coverage which is brilliant. We never had that before. I know randomly get stopped by people in the streets who are just really keen on wanting to find out how the women’s game is going…that’s never been the case (before).”
The influence the World Cup has had on the growth of the women’s game, and the lasting positive legacy it’s left behind, should have been (and should be) seen as the start of the progression and evolution of the women’s game… not the pinnacle.
And whilst it’s right to deduce the likes of Matthews, Fisher and McGilchrist may never be the household names of Ashton, Moody and Lawes, this is no reason for putting women’s rugby back on the back paddocks.
This three steps forward, two steps back approach between the World Cup 2010 and now is not sufficient for the development of the women’s game at the rate, and to the expectations that it can, and deserves, to reach.
The attention gained and publicity attained from the women playing their home matches at Twickenham and the like, will only strengthen the drive in the promotion of the game.
As it is, England’s previous four Grand Slams and five Championship victories in the Six Nation’s barely got any newspaper column inches. They don’t hog the headlines or the front pages, nor are their efforts and triumphs awarded the plaudits and praise to the extent of their male countrymen.
Yet their determination, commitment and passion for the game should never be doubted. Especially when you consider they don’t have the luxury of earning a living from playing the sport they dearly love, instead, having to make their money through the conventional and so called ‘everyday’ methods of teaching, policing and fitness advising, only to then strap on the boots and tie up the shorts for a training session after their 9am-5pm jobs.
So why should the national woman’s teams not have equal right to play their international fixtures at their countries ‘Home’ rugby venue; be it the Aviva Stadium, Murrayfield, the Stade de France, Twickenham, Millenium Stadium or the Stadio Flaminio.
Whilst the crowd numbers may be a little more diluted for the women’s match compared to the men’s, it doesn’t mean it’s a venture not worth undertaking. The long term benefits of the game for women would surely only be positive, with greater exposure to wider audiences and with it, hopefully an increase in the recognition of the women’s game and a spike in participation rates for females.
But above all, the women who ply their trade internationally should not have to see playing at Twickenham as a ‘privilege,’ but as the norm. It should not be seen as a ‘one-off opportunity,’ but as an ongoing occasion.
And while it’s fantastic to read that the England v Scotland fixture this weekend will be held at the ‘Home of English Rugby,’ let’s hope it’s the start of a lasting legacy. The women deserve that!