Champions England have moved to ‘another level’

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Rugby Football Union chief executive Bill Sweeney has described England’s Six Nations campaign as “terrific” as they have taken the game to “another level”.

Sweeney also confirmed that the RFU is on schedule for the Red Roses programme to cover its cost by the 2028-29 season.

“Long term we believe it’s going to more than break even,” said Sweeney.

“We see tremendous growth in the women’s game, you see it in women’s sport in general, and it’s good for rugby overall as a sport so we’ll carry on regardless.”

The Red Roses won a sixth consecutive Six Nations title with victory over France in Bordeaux with Sweeney crediting the impact of head coach John Mitchell.

“We spoke to a number of other candidates, but he was the standout by quite a long way,” said Sweeney.

“It was clear that he’d studied the women’s game. He had a very clear vision of how he wanted to play, and I think you can see that coming through now.”

England scored 44 tries on their way to lifting the title, double that of their nearest rivals France with 22.

Concerns have been raised around the competitiveness of the tournament but Sweeney is not seeing it as a current issue, with the Red Roses making a profit for a second year in a row from their game in front of 50,000 fans at Twickenham.

“They [the crowd at the Ireland game] didn’t seem bored by it, they seemed really excited by it and the other stuff going on, Sophie Ellis-Bexter at half-time, and you see things like our merchandise sales are up,” said Sweeney.

He also highlighted the advantages of different demographics at Twickenham for the women’s games with a 55% female crowd compared to men’s matches, where it’s 85% male.

The only warning for fans of the women’s game was that Sweeney recognised that the difference in price for an England men’s and women’s fixtures is “massive”.

“I think we’ve probably priced [them] too cheaply at the moment, but we want to keep the fans coming in and we want them to enjoy that experience. I’m not saying we’re looking at a price increase, but it is pretty low at the moment,” he added.

Better timing for WXV

Part of the growth of women’s rugby globally has been the new WXV tournament.

England lifted the inaugural WXV1 title in New Zealand last year although much of the tournament was overshadowed by the men’s Rugby World Cup being played at the same time.

“The timing of WXV last year wasn’t great,” admits Sweeney, “in terms of noise it was pretty hard to cut through.

“I’m hoping there’ll be more interest in WXV this time round in September, October.”

However, the 2024 WXV1 tournament will be played in Canada, and the RFU would like to get its women’s autumn home fixtures back in the future to allow “reinvestment in the game”.

Friendlies with France and New Zealand have been arranged for September although the NZRU are yet to sign off their fixture so the RFU can’t start selling tickets yet.

New horizons for Sue Day

Last week the Football Association confirmed Sue Day will be become director of women’s football at the round-ball governing body from December.

A former Red Roses captain and prolific try scorer, Day has been chief financial officer and chief operating officer at the RFU for the past five years.

Sweeney knew Day had been looking to move on and confirmed they had “worked together on this exit” and that it’s “a great move for her”.

“Of course, we will miss her,” said Sweeney.

“She’s a unique character in terms of her background, her knowledge of the game, her credibility in playing the game and her financial skills.

“But this happens in life – people move on and do different things. We always want to have the situation at the RFU where people can come in and feel like they’ve achieved what they want to achieve. If they want to go on somewhere else, we’ll always encourage that.”

He confirmed that the search for Day’s successor was under way and despite her having two roles it was likely that they wanted to bring in one person, but they might “rejig” the executive board depending on who that person is.

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