The 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup proved to be an historic event, creating stars, breaking records and directing millions of eyes towards the women’s game. The tournament attracted an incredible attendance of over 45,000, with more than 17,000 people piling in to Ulster’s Kingspan Stadium for the thrilling final between defending champions England and the Black Ferns.
Globally, viewership figures were smashed with a peak TV audience of over 3.2 million tuning in for the France v England semi-final and games garnered 45 million views across official tournament platforms.
The World Cup was a massive success, the biggest ever in history of the Women’s game, and has introduced and inspired a whole new generation of players and supporters. But how do we ensure that these people remain involved in the game?
The answer, as it so often does, lies at grassroots level.
There was a massive boost in participation levels after the Red Roses World Cup victory at the last World Cup (from 15,000 to 26,000 in England alone) and with the qualifying Home Nations performing well and such thrilling, running rugby on show in the tournament we can only hope to see a similar rise once more.
But where can an aspiring future Portia Woodman or Elinor Snowsill go if they want to give the game a go?
Both the RFU and the SRU have been promoting the game and driving recruitment with ‘Come and Try' sessions all over the country under their fantastic #innerwarrior and #BeTheBestYou campaigns giving prospective players the opportunity to pick up an oval ball for the first time.
Outside of these ‘Come and Try’ sessions, those wishing to get stuck in with the XV a side game will find the grassroots women’s game in good health, with over 300 clubs in England and ever increasing numbers in Wales and Scotland fielding women’s and girl’s rugby sides.
The new Super 15 competition, which is to be broadcast live online, will ensure there is still some media presence for the women’s game here in the UK, giving fans players to admire and emulate.
But we need to continue to build on this progress and take advantage of the buzz that the thrilling tournament has created. Red Roses fly half Katy McLean echoed this sentiment while talking to BBC 5Live in the aftermath of their final defeat, “We’ve said this in 2010 and 2014 and now we’re saying it in 2017. At some point the landscape has got to change. Unless we start doing something about it, it isn’t going to change."
“The support has been sensational but we have really got to start making sure we aren’t saying in 2021, ‘Was this the one?’. Let’s make it now, and let’s make a difference."
The game needs continued financial investment from governing bodies and sponsors, and time and effort from the coaches and volunteers who can make a difference on a day-to-day or week to week basis. Both are vital if the game is to continue to grow.
It’s a thrilling time to be involved in women’s rugby but also a pivotal one. We have the chance to cement the status of women’s rugby as a major sport here in the UK; let’s strike while the iron’s hot.