England will make history at Twickenham on Saturday, amid an appeal to the Rugby Football Union to ensure the financial rewards available in the women’s game match its growing value to the governing body.
The Red Roses host France in a Grand Slam decider with more than 53,000 tickets already sold, surpassing the previous record crowd of 42,579 seen for last autumn’s World Cup final against New Zealand in Auckland.
It provides another seminal moment in the expansion of women’s rugby, with England as standard-bearers as they continue to fill the club’s pitches through the Six Nations.
In the process, it significantly outscores the men’s game in the quest undertaken to find its ‘net promoter score’ – the extent to which match-goers would recommend the experience to others.
Rugby Players’ Association general secretary Christian Day is currently involved in discussions with the RFU about a new deal for the women as their existing contracts expire this summer.
Day believes that Red Roses are now a major asset to the RFU and are becoming key to the sport’s prosperity.
“For me, when you look at how rugby is going to grow, you look at the women’s game,” said Day.
“I don’t think anyone would have thought there would be 60,000 at Twickenham on Saturday and I wonder how many of them have already been to an England match.
“It’s a whole new market, a new demographic of fans and supporters and people watching.
“Viewership figures on the BBC are over one million, which is what the recent Saracens v Harlequins match on ITV did, so very similar numbers.
“Women’s football offers a huge opportunity for growth and who’s to say there can’t be double ties in Exeter for example?
“That explains part of the investment, but also why we need people to support this concept of serious women’s rugby.
“We are now concluding the contracts and want a fair representation of what their value is to the RFU. I think it’s going up.
“I think they are becoming a big part of the RFU brand and we know it’s the players who generate the vast majority of money in rugby.”
Day insists that the Red Roses have emerged as superb ambassadors for the sport, noting that they “crave the support they’ve never had before” while for the men, “it’s a tougher sell because they’ve always had it.”
A fixture of every England match is that players stay long after the final whistle to interact with fans, snap selfies and sign autographs.
“A huge credit goes to the RFU and the players for ticket sales on Saturday. They ran over and that mob didn’t happen by itself,” Day said.
“I’ve used the tube countless times and all I can see is Zoe Aldcroft staring at me as I get tickets for Saturday.
“Girls may realize on Saturday that they can’t have 60,000 selfies, but they’ll still try to work their way around the field to interact with everyone.
“I’ve been to games with my daughter and she took a selfie with every player. A huge credit goes to them.”
For England star Emily Scarratt, who misses the showdown with France with neck and ankle injuries, women’s rugby has its one selling point.
“Generally there isn’t as much football and there is a little more ball in playing time,” said Scarratt.
“We try to find the edges and the breadth and there’s a little bit more freedom in the game, which is a great reason to come and see it. People who come to games usually really like what they see.