A couple of England players said after the last game: “We’ve got the best fans in the world”.
And when you actually stop and think about it, we really do. We have gone from selling out Castle Park with 5,000 fans, to Covid shutting everything down, and then playing at bigger venues, like Sixways Stadium, last autumn. Now the game has exploded and England are breaking records week after week.
That’s the mind-boggling thing, this isn’t just a one-off. People are following the team, they’re engaged in it and they don’t want to miss out.
After a record crowd of 14,689 for the Wales game two weeks ago, Sunday’s game against Ireland at Welford Road is due to top that number.
It’s incredible and it shows this Women’s Six Nations has been so significant. It has been really timely, because it has created this belief that there is a need for filling out stadiums, putting the women’s game centre stage and giving them their own window.
For so many years as a player, and others would say it now, it was agreed France was the best place to play, because they always got the most incredible crowds.
I played in front of some of the biggest crowds over there and was at the game in 2018 against England, when they set the world record for a ticketed women’s international by bringing in over 17,000 fans. But now, we might start having people say England is the best place to play rugby after the crowds we have seen recently.
England’s showdown with France next week should be fireworks, but both sides need to win this weekend to set up the Grand Slam decider.
England will expect to beat Ireland, particularly as the visitors have eight players away playing Sevens. It is going to be a tough day for the Irish to try to get new combinations in place so quickly.
England, on the other hand, have players returning this weekend, like Amy Cokayne and Zoe Aldcroft, and head coach Simon Middleton has said he will be putting out his best squads for the Ireland and France games.
With the World Cup in six months, players will want to be in those squads, because it’s a strong indication of what’s going to be happening moving forward.
Simon is still working out his best combinations, but it’s all very competitive and shows England are in a good place.