How the opening weekend of the Tyrrells Premier 15s could be a seminal moment
Saturday sees the start of the Tyrrells Premier 15s and in this year of women’s sport milestones, the hope is that this weekend can be a breakthrough for rugby.
Much of the public’s attention may be on the proceedings in Japan for the men’s World Cup but for the women’s game, this upcoming season could be a seminal moment.
How has the game of women’s rugby risen over the past few years and what can the sport do to take itself to the next level?
Popularity at grassroots continues to soar
Since the start of 2013, World Rugby reported a 60% rise in participation in women’s rugby and females make up 25% of all rugby players.
In England, this vibe of popularity in rugby among women is shared as almost 37,000 play regularly at a club. This is triple the number it was just seven years ago.
The RFU has a dedicated action plan for women and girls and while they are still some way off the target of having 50,000 participants by 2021, more than 18,000 have attended specialist camps.
With huge publicity around matches like the Bristol Bears hosting champions Saracens on Saturday to kickstart the Premier 15s, popularity should only be on an upward curve and that is what the game needs.
Attendances are also rising
Playing the game is one thing but for the game to grow, there should also be a demand from people to watch women’s rugby and thankfully, that seems to be the case.
In March this year, when England defeated Italy 55-0 in the Women’s Six Nations at Sandy Park, 10,545 supporters turned up to break the attendance record for a non-World Cup game in England outside of Twickenham.
In a match labelled as “The Game Changer”, Harlequins Ladies hosted a record crowd of 4,837 against Gloucester Hartpury. It is still the biggest crowd for a women’s club match.
This is the time to grasp
As seen in various events this year, like the FIFA Women’s World Cup and the Netball World Cup, women’s sport and its popularity is on the rise.
With the Gallagher Premiership postponed until October 18 due to the men’s World Cup, it provides the perfect opportunity for the women’s game to take the spotlight in domestic matters.
Rugby could also learn from the success of the opening of the Women’s Super League in football, as more than 50,000 people flocked to grounds such as the Etihad and Stamford Bridge to watch their teams.
The RFU must realise this is a time when women’s rugby can make the leap other sports have made and they must back their game and reap the rewards.