Women’s Six Nations 2023: England set to host record crowd at Twickenham

129493968 england womens rugby twickenham


A graphic with a pink background and pictures of England's Lagi Tuima, Ellie Kildunne and Marlie Packer above an image of Twickenham stadium
England last played at Twickenham behind closed doors in the autumn of 2020
Venue: Twickenham Stadium Date: Saturday, 29 April Kick-off: 13:00 BST
Coverage: Watch on BBC Two, iPlayer and the BBC Sport website and app; listen on BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra and follow live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app.

Last time England’s women played in front of a crowd at Twickenham, fly-half Katy Daley-Mclean shared a secret dream.

“One day we can aspire to fill it,” she said before their 2019 meeting with Scotland.

More a vain prayer than a real hope back then.

That day, just over 13,000 of the 82,000 fans who had attended the men’s game stayed on to watch for free in the rain and the cold.

This weekend, Daley-Mclean’s dream takes a step towards reality.

More than 53,000 have bought tickets for England’s Grand Slam-deciding game against France on Saturday – their first standalone Twickenham Test.

In 2021, the Rugby Football Union stated an aim to fill Twickenham for the 2025 World Cup final. What seemed a stretch at the time is surely in the bag now.

England centre Emily Scarratt was “a bit sceptical” at first, but playing in the 2022 World Cup final in front of the current world-record crowd of 42,579 at New Zealand’s Eden Park changed that.

“What we are going to see now, I genuinely believe it [a sold-out Twickenham] will happen,” she told BBC Sport.

“It’s massively exciting.”

‘We were told nobody wanted to watch’

If women’s rugby has advanced since Daley-Mclean’s 2019 dream, it is in a different universe to when Giselle Mather played for England.

Making her debut in 1990 and earning 34 caps in the eight years that followed, Mather played at a time when England’s women had their own union and so played with a different rose on their shirt to the men’s side. She had to pay for that shirt herself too.

Playing at Twickenham was a dream, but never a serious discussion.

“We used to play in front of one man and his dog and we were always told, ‘nobody else wants to watch this’,” says Mather, who is now director of women’s rugby at Ealing Trailfinders.

“They actually do. It’s a watershed moment for us.”

Mather won the World Cup with England in 1994 and the side celebrated highlights of their final victory against the United States making it on to BBC show Grandstand.

“We all stood together 20 minutes after [the match] and there it was, it was awesome,” she recalls.

Now, every Women’s Six Nations game is available to watch live on the BBC and all of England’s matches in the tournament are on BBC Two.

“If I want to turn my TV on and watch women’s sport, I now have the choice,” Mather says.

“If I want to go and watch it live, I now have the choice.

“In the past, other people made that choice for me and decided that only men’s sport would be on the TV, only men’s sport would be put into the big stadiums, ticketed and given the platform and media coverage to excel.”

England lead the standings with four bonus-point wins and a points difference of 218. France are second with 19 points and a points difference of 140. Wales are third with 10 points, Scotland fourth with five, Italy fifth with four and Ireland bottom with no points

‘Why not be different to the men?’

The growing England crowds are no accident.

Players have been on full-time contracts since 2019 and England are top of the world rankings.

Their advance has left a significant gap with all other teams except France, but the Women’s Six Nations has benefited since Covid-19 forced a move into its own window after the men’s tournament in 2021.

Instead of hosting 10,000 in an echoey Twickenham, the RFU started taking the Red Roses around the country in 2018.

Playing in grounds from Doncaster to Exeter, England have built their fandom gradually. In 2022, a new record attendance of 14,689 was set in Gloucester before 15,836 turned up for the next game in Leicester.

Now, adverts for Saturday’s game are plastered on London trains and road signs near Twickenham warn of expected delays.

“I drive up the M25 to Saracens three times a week and I’m always seeing ‘Twickenham traffic’,” England captain Marlie Packer reflects.

“To have that for a women’s game and to know hopefully I’m going to be a part of that, it’s one of those pinch-yourself moments.”

The RFU have given the Red Roses their own identity too.

Sponsor O2 and the English union have funded a Sugababes half-time performance for the France match – targeting a different audience to the Twickenham crowd for men’s Six Nations matches.

While men’s games attract mostly male fans, Saturday’s crowd will be around 50% female.

Tickets are more affordable for families too. The France match is £5 for a child and between £20 and £30 for adults, compared with adult prices ranging from £32 to £168 for men’s matches, which are £22 for children.

“Why not be different to the men?” former England captain Sarah Hunter asks.

“Having the Sugababes for the half-time show is class. It just gives a different dimension for a women’s game.”

‘Magical and breathtaking’

Both teams will provide plenty of entertainment too.

England and France have been playing exciting, fast-paced rugby and Hunter believes it could be “one of the great games in women’s history”.

“The ball is flying about everywhere,” Mather adds.

“We play the game differently. Not wrong or right, but to excel in our capabilities.

“The power game is there but it isn’t the be all and end all. We move the ball, we run the ball, we kick the ball, but we don’t kick it as far so it doesn’t become the thing we do all the time.

“It is a purer form of the game that perhaps the men’s game will look at and go ‘this is why I fell in love with the game’.”

Mather will be in attendance with around 700 other pioneers, all wearing caps they earned while playing at a time when women were not expected or encouraged to.

“I would go to watch the men’s games at Twickenham and often dream,” she says of her playing days.

“I no doubt will be quite emotional. It’s a lifetime of commitment, effort and dedication on my part and thousands of others to see what is going to happen at Twickenham, the home of rugby.

“It’s going to be the women that take that stage. It’s magical and breathtaking.”


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