The news of a full house at Castle Park Doncaster for the Ireland game is excellent. When was an England Women’s international last sold out five days before the event?
But it throws into doubt the wisdom of offering Doncaster Knights a third crack of the whip (after staging two games against Canada and France). There is no doubting their hospitality or enthusiasm and it’s an attractive ground, but influential voices like Catherine Spencer’s have questioned the repeated use of a club with a 5,000 capacity. In the sport of top attendances England isn’t likely to be overtaking the pack leaders France any time soon.
It’s a tricky question. Three clubs outside London have been favoured with test matches in the last two years: Doncaster, Bedford and Exeter. Exeter can boast a gate more than twice the size of the other two. Is the RFU being adventurous enough in its choices?
We may get an angle on the problem when Harlequins announce the size of their crowd at Twickenham Stoop for the next round against Wales. As I have moaned before, London’s willingness to show up at Red Roses’ matches has been extremely disappointing over recent years, given the potential drawing-power of the metropolis.
Supporters from all over the country would love to see their national side play closer to home. In the past, tests have been played in the north (Darlington, Leeds, and the Midlands (Wolverhampton, Northampton, etc); but – so far as I can ascertain – nothing further west than Newbury, till the adoption of Exeter.
Isn’t it high time for grounds with a minimum capacity of 10,000 to be chosen?
The Exeter experience confirms that a regional club backed by strong community support is likely to attract a bigger crowd than (yet another) fixture inside the capital. The atmosphere at Castle Park, Goldington Road and Sandy Park was captivating, but the first two grounds couldn’t offer more than that (by today’s standards) modest 5,000 crowd.