By James Reid
HANNAH Botterman is backing Twickenham to become a fortress ahead of the Red Roses’ hotly-anticipated showdown with France at the end of the 2023 TikTok Women’s Six Nations.
The Red Roses are set to clash with Les Bleues at the home of English rugby in a potential Championship decider on 29 April, with over 40,000 tickets already sold for what is hoped to be a world record crowd for a women’s game.
It will be the first time England’s women have played standalone fixture at the 82,000-seater stadium, and former Welwyn RFC player Botterman hopes playing at HQ will become the norm ahead of the 2025 Rugby World Cup on home soil.
“We had a meeting not so long ago to say that everyone’s ambition is to sell out Twickenham for that World Cup final,” said Botterman.
“That’s the plan, that’s what we want, and we don’t just want that to be a one-off. We want that to be the norm and to play all of our Six Nations games here.
“When I started we were ecstatic to sell out a little 5,000-seater stadium in Doncaster and we were buzzing about it.
“Now we are getting 40,000 people into Twickenham to watch us. It’s really special and it just shows how fast it’s growing and how quickly it is getting there.
“We all know the occasion it is going to be. For us, it is about not getting too excited about the occasion and focusing not only on that game but all the other games that come before it.
“It is going to be a massive occasion, and hopefully we will have the opportunity to win another Six Nations title at home.
“It will be nice to have that size of a home crowd behind us, it’s not something we have done before in terms of that many people in a stadium – it’s really exciting.”
Botterman was speaking at the announcement of a new collaborative project between the Women’s Sport Trust, O2 and the Rugby Football Union to deliver a long-term study into the visibility of the England women’s rugby team, with the joint ambition to use the data and insights to help close rugby’s gender awareness gap.
It aims to help drive record match attendances for the Red Roses, with a target to fill Twickenham Stadium for the first time for a women’s international with 82,000 fans.
The women’s game had a transformative year in 2023, as England produced two record crowds in the 2022 TikTok Women’s Six Nations before playing in front of 40,000 people at the Rugby World Cup final in New Zealand.
The Red Roses were on the wrong side of a shock defeat in that final, which brought a sudden end to their world-record 30-match winning streak.
But it is that disappointment that is fuelling England’s bid for a fourth Grand Slam in five years in what Botterman believes will be the most competitive Championship yet.
“There is a sense that it’s changed, it’s very different from what it was five, six years ago and as players you can definitely see that,” she added.
“If there was one thing that we probably wanted as players it was for there to be an equal playing field, we don’t just want to be the people that win because we are fully contracted.
“We want there to be some serious competition and it will be really interesting to see how tight it is this year.
“You have the likes of us and France who have always been the front-runners, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see someone else coming through the ranks.”
If England are to continue their dominance of the TikTok Women’s Six Nations, it will be with a much-changed side, with stars such as Emily Scarratt and Zoe Harrison absent with injury while co-captain Sarah Hunter is set to retire after the opening game against Scotland on 25 March.
“Legend is the correct word for Sarah,” said Botterman. “It gets plastered around a lot, but she is an incredible human.
“I believe that if you are a good human you are a better player and the respect she has from all the girls is just off the charts.
“I am pleased that we have taken it up to Newcastle for her to bow out up there. That will be really special.
“There will be an opportunity for a few new caps, and it is important that we start breeding those players now looking towards that 2025 World Cup.
“It is really important that those players get an opportunity and sometimes injuries happen for the best of the team.”
The Rugby Football Union, O2 and Women’s Sport Trust have announced an innovative collaboration that aims to use data and insight to help close rugby’s gender awareness gap. #WearTheRose