England continue to inspire with the nation looking to capitalise on 'generational' home World Cup

Exeter Chiefs' array of international stars - including Red Rose Claudia McDonald - helping to promote the 2025 Women's World Cup
©Exeter Rugby Club

England are preparing to host Ireland in front of a bumper crowd at Twickenham on Saturday and the Red Roses are closing in on another Guinness Six Nations crown.

It has been an altogether neat and tidy start to the ‘John Mitchell era' and England seem to be building in the right direction towards a home Women’s World Cup in 2025.

It is now under 500 days until the start of the competition and last week, World Rugby and Exeter Chiefs hosted a launch event at Sandy Park, one of the tournament's eight host venues. 

The day celebrated the anticipation of a home tournament, the strides the women’s game has made, and the impact many hope the World Cup will have on the country.

The Chief of Women’s Rugby at World Rugby, Sally Horrox, was in attendance at the event. 

Horrox has previously worked for the FA and her aim for this tournament is to replicate the impact that the 2022 Women's Euros had on participation and fan engagement. 

“Time is flying by before the kick-off of the tournament next year,” Horrox tells TRU.

“When you walk in here [Sandy Park] today, you can feel the passion and the commitment that this city and community have for this sport and this tournament, so I’m extremely excited. 

“The buzz and energy here in the room and out on the pitch, with the young girls enjoying their morning, brings it to life. It’s important that we think about what the impact of the tournament is going to be.

“Today marks 500 days to go, but also the launch of the RFU’s ‘Impact 25’ initiative, which is all about making the game more accessible and relevant for young girls in this country and Exeter are a key part of that.”

The initiative is supported by a £12 million investment by the UK government, building on the anticipation for the tournament. The ambition is to have 100,000 female rugby players by 2027 with sold-out, record-breaking crowds across the World Cup inspiring the next generation.

Speaking to Catherine Hill, Service Lead for Communications, Culture, Leisure & Tourism at Exeter City Council, she said: “I think it's a generational moment for the city and the surrounding areas. 

“As we know from hosting the men's tournament in 2015, the impact on the city is massive, not only in terms of the economic benefits but also in putting Exeter on the national and global stage.

“Then, of course, participation in women's and girls' sports, which is hugely important to us, is one of the council's priorities - activity, active and healthy lifestyles - and this tournament ticks all those boxes which is really exciting.”

Everyone in attendance echoed that latter sentiment about participation in women's and girls' sports.

Eight of the current Exeter Chiefs Women’s squad were also out on the Sandy Park pitch coaching young girls from 10 local clubs, including Teignmouth, Paignton and Exeter Saracens, the club where Chiefs prop Abby Middlebrooke played her age-grade rugby. 

Head coach of the Exeter Chiefs Women’s side, Susie Appleby, explained: “Exeter is a proper rugby city, and everyone wants to be a part of Chiefs. 

“We have to maximise our opportunity, and we're delighted to be appointed a host city because of what we've done in the last three years. Since our women’s side has been in existence, the trajectory has been phenomenal. The excitement around the city is phenomenal, and the appetite for rugby in the South-West is fantastic.”

“We have local clubs coming in here every Saturday. There's a big, big fan base for the women's game, and it's only growing. We want to make sure that everyone is playing, who wants to play and not just to become an international player but to love the game for what it is, which is one of the best games in the world.”

USA Eagle Rachel Johnson added to Appleby’s comments: “I feel like outsiders often talk about how we can inspire the youth, but the youth is really inspiring to us as well. It's awesome to be able to work with girls that you see come out to our games on Saturdays and Sundays here at Sandy Park, and I loved being able to work with them at the event. I have a sort of inspirational envy of these young girls, having not played sports super early on in my life.

“It's awesome to see them already getting in touch with the way their bodies move, how they are as teammates, and how they interact with each other. These are all important skills for sport and life in general.” 

Exeter is a hotbed for women’s rugby and is the perfect location to host what promises to be a pinnacle event for the sport as a whole.

The success of the Exeter Chiefs’ side - who reached last season’s Premiership final - has been crucial to this rise in popularity, and a vital part of that success has been the pathway that has been developed. 

Johnson explained: “Obviously, we have the community leagues for the girls, the centre of excellence and our college programmes, but I think something that's really striking is the Exeter University rugby programme, headed by the head coach Poppy Leitch. 

“I've had the privilege of working with her over the past couple of years in an assistant coaching role, as have quite a few of the Exeter Chiefs women. As the league continues to professionalise and we continue to get more sponsorship and more support for the women's game, the pathway will go from strength to strength.

“I've had the privilege of working with the programme over the past three years, and it's been inspiring to see players like Nancy McGillivray, Katie Buchanan and Maisy Allen. 

“To see them already come to the programme as talented athletes, but then to see them really grow as rugby players, being able to represent the university and then make their way over to Chiefs, first playing through the Prem Cup and now being established Premiership players in the club is great. Nancy and Katie are both on transitional England contracts, and Maisie has also been able to represent England on the Test stage.” 

The last Women’s Rugby World Cup held in England was 14 years ago, and with the heartbreak of the 2021 final still on the minds of this current Red Roses squad, the number one ranked side in the world will be hoping to seal the deal this time in front of a home crowd. 

Red Rose and Exeter Chiefs winger Claudia MacDonald is a mainstay of the international squad. 

“We've been so lucky as an England national team. We've had such an incredible fan base, and that's grown and grown over the last couple of years. When I think back to my first cap, there were probably 5,000 people there. Fast forward to England vs France at Twickenham [in last year’s Six Nations], and there are over 50,000 people there, and that's amazing. 

“A home World Cup is going to be amazing for us as players, and it is an incredible occasion. As players, we want to go out there and win the World Cup, and having the loudest voices of the English fans behind us will be huge.”