Red Roses training with crowd noise to prepare for Twickenham atmosphere

Lark Atkin-Davies of England looks on during a England Red Roses Training Session at Twickenham Stadium on April 18, 2024 in London, England.
Lark Atkin-Davies returns at hooker - Getty Images/Alex Davidson

England have been training with artificial crowd noise in preparation for their marquee Women’s Six Nations fixture with Ireland in front of a bumper crowd at Twickenham this weekend.

Around 50,000 are expected at the home of English rugby on Saturday, which would mark the second highest attendance for a women’s Test match after the 58,498 record crowd that watched the Red Roses crowned Grand Slam champions against France last April.

Such attendances are relatively new in women’s rugby – matches in the English top flight, Premiership Women’s Rugby, rarely exceed 2,000 – and the Red Roses have spent the week mimicking the stadium atmosphere ahead of the occasion.

“Early on in the week when we did more low-key training inside, we put crowd noise in,” said Marlie Packer, the England captain. “I personally loved it. It just raised it [because] you have to be really clear and concise in your calls and it makes the leaders lead in different areas. They had to make sure they’re really concise in what they were saying in the line-outs and also the calls out to the backs. It paints a different picture for us. It’s been a new thing that we’ve brought in this week which has raised our game. Hopefully we can put it out on the pitch on Saturday.”

John Mitchell, the England head coach, has made minimal changes to the side that thrashed Scotland last week, although fly-half Zoe Harrison and lock Abbie Ward are two high-profile omissions to have missed on selection for the headline fixture.

Marlie Packer returns as openside and captain while Lark Atkin-Davies is back at hooker, having completed concussion protocols and starts in light of Amy Cokayne being banned for this game following her red card in Edinburgh.

It was the second red card that Mitchell’s side have picked up in their last three matches – Sarah Beckett is still serving a three-match ban after being sent off in England’s Six Nations opener against Italy. The New Zealander, however, insisted discipline had not been a focal point over the past week.

“I want us to continue to play on the edge but I also want us to be aware around how we need to change our behaviour,” said Mitchell, adding that there were “bigger rocks to deal with than discipline”.

Marlie Packer running with the ball
Captain Marlie Packer returns to England's back row for the match against Ireland at Twickenham this weekend - Alex Davidson/Getty Images

Adaptability has been a key theme of Mitchell’s tenure after England were rattled by Lydia Thompson’s red card in the 2022 World Cup final, from which they never recovered and lost to New Zealand. Embracing chaotic situations, though, has been a feature of the Red Roses’ training as they build towards a home World Cup next year.

“We’re always curious about what the game can bring and what the opposition might bring that you haven’t been able to predict,” said Mitchell. “So we’re always chucking in something bizarre as a coaching group. I’m sure the girls are always thinking, ‘Where has that come from?’ Ultimately you need to have a bit of humour around it as well. If you rehearse then you’ll have more readiness for a situation. Between now and 2025 there will be lots of different challenges that we’re not ready for but we’ll have to be.”

Ireland have made two changes to their starting team following their win over Wales last weekend. Hannah O’Connor comes into the second row for Sam Monaghan and Aoife Dalton comes in for Enya Breen in midfield.

England team: Ellie Kildunne (Harlequins); Abby Dow (Trailfinders), Megan Jones (Leicester Tigers), Tatyana Heard (Gloucester-Hartpury), Jess Breach (Saracens); Holly Aitchison (Bristol Bears), Natasha Hunt (Gloucester-Hartpury); Hannah Botterman (Bristol Bears), Lark Atkin-Davies (Bristol Bears), Maud Muir (Gloucester-Hartpury), Zoe Aldcroft (Gloucester-Hartpury), Rosie Galligan (Saracens), Sadia Kabeya (Loughborough Lightning), Marlie Packer (captain, Saracens), Alex Matthews (Gloucester-Hartpury).
Replacements: Connie Powell (Harlequins), Mackenzie Carson (Gloucester-Hartpury), Kelsey Clifford (Saracens), Morwenna Talling (Sale Sharks), Maddie Feaunati (Exeter Chiefs), Lucy Packer (Harlequins), Emily Scarratt (Loughborough Lightning), Sydney Gregson (Saracens).

Ireland team: Lauren Delany (Sale Sharks); Katie Corrigan (Old Belvedere), Eve Higgins (Railway Union), Aoife Dalton (Old Belvedere), Beibhinn Parsons (Blackrock College); Dannah O’Brien (Old Belvedere), Aoibheann Reilly (Blackrock College); Linda Djougang (Old Belvedere), Neve Jones (Gloucester-Hartpury), Christy Haney (Blackrock College), Dorothy Wall (Blackrock College), Hannah O’Connor (Blackrock College), Aoife Wafer (Blackrock College), Edel McMahon (captain, Exeter Chiefs), Brittany Hogan (Old Belvedere).

Replacements: Cliodhna Moloney (Exeter Chiefs), Niamh O’Dowd (Old Belvedere), Sadhbh McGrath (Cooke RFC), Fiona Tuite (Old Belvedere), Shannon Ikahihifo (Trailfinders), Molly Scuffil-McCabe (Leinster), Enya Breen (Blackrock College), Meabh Deely (Blackrock College).