England women’s Rowland seeks rise in club crowds after Twickenham record

  • ‘We’ve proved there’s an appetite for women’s rugby’
  • Rowland hopes crowds can now flock to Premier 15s finale

England’s Helena Rowland hopes the Red Roses’ grand slam success in front of a women’s world-record crowd at Twickenham will be a springboard for higher attendances in the domestic game.

Rowland, who plays for Loughborough Lightning in the Premier 15s, started Saturday’s historic match in front of 58,498 fans as England beat France 38-33. After some respite the England players will return to their clubs with the next round of the Premier 15s taking place on the weekend of 13-14 May.

The league’s attendances are growing but not at the same rate as the huge crowds England are starting to gather. The record for the Premier 15s was set in March when 15,420 fans watched Harlequins face Exeter Chiefs at Quins’ Big Game at Twickenham. It broke the record by more than 6,000 supporters but the number is not a weekly figure and Rowland believes that is the next thing to tackle.

“That’s the next challenge, we’ve proved there’s an appetite for women’s rugby and hopefully that will soon be evident in the club game,” Rowland said. “All these players are playing week in, week out. It’s a really competitive league and it would be good to get some bigger numbers down.”

Helena Rowland of England and Loughborough Lightning kicks a conversion against France.
Helena Rowland of England and Loughborough Lightning kicks a conversion against France. Photograph: Catherine Ivill/RFU/The RFU Collection/Getty Images

The league is becoming more competitive with the once massively dominant Saracens and Harlequins currently third and fifth in the table. Last season Exeter Chiefs became the first club that were not Saracens or Harlequins to reach the Premier 15s final. The England prop Hannah Botterman, a three-time Premier 15s winner with Saracens, says with that growing competition the crowds will come.

“The games have to be good for people to come and watch them,” Botterman said. “The Premier 15s is going in that direction. We’ve had a rush of funding and hopefully we can put performances on the pitch at club level that are interesting for people to watch. We obviously want to commercialise it and get more people down because the club game needs to make money as well.”

The best test to see if Saturday’s Twickenham crowd for the Red Roses has had an immediate impact on the league will be when this season’s semi-finals and final are played in June. The venues for the semis have not yet been confirmed as the league’s top four is not locked in and the top two finishers in the table are the hosts. However, the Rugby Football Union has confirmed Gloucester’s Kingsholm as the venue for the final. The ground has a capacity of just over 16,000 and so there is a chance to create more history if they sell it out as it will be a new record for the women’s club game.


Sarah Rendell

The GuardianTramp

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