The Rugby World Cup moves a step closer

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The RFU has confirmed the venues for the 2025 RWC. They stretch from Sunderland in the north-east to Exeter in the south-west.

Attempts have been made to cover every region; the fact that they don’t (East Anglia, West Midlands?) only proves what a gigantically large country England is. Pause for guffaws.

Three of the venues currently host PWR matches: Sandy Park (Exeter Chiefs); Franklin’s Gardens (Loughborough Lightning) and Ashton Gate, (Bristol Bears, occasionally).

At the other extreme four stadiums selected do not see women’s rugby played there, Brighton & Hove Albion Stadium (football), Stadium of Light, Sunderland (football), York Community Stadium (football and rugby league) and Salford Community Stadium (rugby league and men’s rugby union).

The capacities of the eight grounds show a sensible prediction of likely gates. The first and last games – Sunderland (48,707) and Twickenham (82.000) – reveal the ambition. At least Sunderland has the assurance of the Red Roses playing there. The smallest ground (8,510) is at York, centre of England’s largest county, which in recent years has offered women’s rugby only in three test matches at Castle Park Doncaster.

The other capacities are:

Ashton Gate (26,387)
Brighton & Hove Albion Stadium (31,800)
Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton (15,153)
Salford Community Stadium (11,404)
Sandy Park (15,000)

The long-held intention to sell out HQ remains the holy grail. It depends hugely on England’s ability to to work their way to the final (any doubters?), then to fill the third and top-tier which remained empty for the famous France match in the last 6 Nations. That means attracting a cool 24,000 extra spectators through the gates.

By 2025 there will have been one, possibly two or more Red Rose internationals played there: Ireland are due in next year’s 6N, while a likely visit by the Black Ferns has not yet been confirmed. They will indicate how close the RFU can come to fulfilling its ambition.

It is significant that three organisations have given their backing to the project, the RFU, World Rugby and His Majesty’s Government. No indication is given as to the proportions of the financial backing, nor any limits they might have set on their commitment.

As with other major sporting events (the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games, the football World Cup, etc) costs can easily spiral out of control. City councils are far more cautious these days than in the past.

Much will depend on the skill of the publicity agents employed to achieve these high aims. The last RWC in New Zealand showed the acute difficulties. Spectators turned out in modest numbers to watch the home team, the Black Ferns, and New Zealand is supposed to be the most rugby-spirited nation on earth. For the rest grounds were noteworthy for their emptiness.

WR has at last bowed to demands for the scale of the RWC to be widened; sixteen nations will be involved, four more than before. That is wonderfully encouraging for the so-called emerging nations to enter the big time, but it also demands great efforts from the organisers to encourage people to come and watch them. At least Brighton has the happy memory of hosting the biggest upset in the history of the men’s RWC when Japan’s Brave Blossoms beat the Springboks.

Legacy is a key word in projects like this. So Sarah Hunter, herself a proud Geordie, was on hand to welcome 60 women and girls to the Stadium of Light for the launch. Steve Grainger, RFU Executive Director of Rugby Development, reminded us of the aim to have 100,000 women and girls playing the sport by 2027.

The start date, 22 August, 2025, shows how far ahead the organisers are planning their moves. The woman bearing the brunt is Sarah Massey, Managing Director, Women’s Rugby World Cup 2025. We wish her and her colleagues well.