In a post-World Cup review, chaired by the former sports minister Hugh Robertson and RFU Chief Executive Bill Sweeney, England’s World Cup squad came out in favour of playing more future home games away from Twickenham.
This came after a game at against Italy Newcastle United’s Saint James’ Park last summer in the build-up to the World Cup campaign – England’s first home game away from their west London home for over 20 years.
27 of the 32 players involved in the World Cup took the survey, and while it was anonymous, Sweeney has reported “the players really enjoyed travelling around the country and Newcastle did a great job.”
This is a positive sign from the players, and it would be wise of the RFU to listen. English Rugby is in desperate need to reconnect to its roots. My colleague, Joe Ronan, has already written for In The Loose about the decreasing number of young people taking up the sport and the regular loss of players to education or other commitments from 16 onwards.
Twickenham’s location makes it easy to access for those from the home counties or living in London, but for rugby fans north of the capital it makes a day watching England both expensive and logistically near impossible.
You only have to look as far back as this summer, where Leeds played host to one of the greatest Ashes Tests ever in Headingley Stadium to see the success of English international sport outside of London. Doing this – touring round the country and playing England games in cities that have not previously seen international rugby – would go a long way to encourage support and participation in the game amongst those that may have previously not been exposed to it.
Obviously, it is not the role of the England players to consider finances. According the The Guardian, Twickenham’s 82 000 capacity can generate around £10m for the RFU, whilst games away from HQ require rental fees and may not promise such high attendance.
That being said, the RFU is in an almost unique position due to the abundance of huge sporting stadiums all over the country and not just in London. Old Trafford, Anfield, St James’ Park and Villa Park would all be great arenas to watch rugby across the country.
Furthermore, Sweeney et al. need to consider these games an investment. Reconnecting with youth across the country must be their number one priority as the sport fights to remain accessible to all and not just those that can afford it.
England’s home games for 2020 have already been confirmed to be at Twickenham, but here’s hoping after the player’s advice and backing the RFU will be brave enough to fly further afield in 2021.
Written by Will Sewell.