From The Vaults

29 May 2023
History Makers: The Red Roses

29 April 2023 saw the Red Roses play France in Twickenham Stadium's first 'stand-alone' women's rugby test-match. The day before, a special unveiling ceremony took place in the England Dressing Room.

Since 2014, the names of every male player, dating back to 1871, had adorned the wall as part of an effort by then England men's coach Stuart Lancaster to connect the current generation of England players with the rich history that had gone before them.

There was an obvious omission however, no Red Roses. The justification for this was that Twickenham wasn't really the home of the Red Roses who, for several years, had played in front of sell-out crowds at stadiums around the country, such as at Doncaster, Exeter, Gloucester and over the road at The Twickenham Stoop.

The argument didn't quite stack up though as the Red Roses had played several times at Twickenham before, usually before or after a men's test-match. But acting as the 'support-act' meant that they wouldn't be using the dressing room that is commonly understood to be at the heart of Twickenham Stadium. That all changed in April 2023.

An emotional Gill Burns announced that 'we are now, every one of us, part of the fabric of the stadium…' as she ripped back the curtain to reveal the names of every Red Rose since 1987 on the wall opposite the men.

The move was greeted with universal acclaim. 'It's an honour and a privilege to have my name on those walls next to the likes of Gill Burns and today's squad', commented 27-cap Tony Underwood online.

What Gill didn't mention was her own role in bringing the Red Roses to this point. She had retired in 2002, having played 73 times for England. Almost immediately, she then applied herself to the promotion of the women's game. In an interview with Rugby World magazine in September 2002 she said:

'I know quite a few people at the RFU and I'm going to try and help the women's game. Playing at Twickenham would be a huge boost for the game that has come so far in the last few years and I'll try anything I can to achieve that objective.'

Paul Morgan, editor of Rugby World at the time, concluded the article by saying that Rugby World will be behind her all the way and reiterated the magazine's commitment on the letters page of the following edition. In fact, Rugby World magazine at that stage had already conducted a prolonged campaign to have the Red Roses play at Twickenham, having put the question on its pages to both RFU CEO Francis Baron and England men's coach Clive Woodward. For the record, Woodward said that he supported the idea and Baron replied that he hadn't ruled it out.

2003 Red Roses

In February 2003 the primary objective was realised as Maxine Edwards led her side out to play France at Twickenham. The match was the opening fixture of the 2003 Women's Six Nations Championship and took place a few hours before England played France in the men's tournament.

Although the stadium was almost entirely empty, it was an important milestone in the development of the women's game. The dream shared by women's rugby administrators since the early 1980s, however, was for the women's game to compete on an even footing with the men's game.

Fast forward another twenty years and most of those administrators, ex-players and many others who had supported women's rugby along the way, were amongst the world-record 58,498 people who had come to be there as Marlie Packer's side took to the field.

Another milestone reached then, but not the last. Having been awarded hosting rights to the 2025 Rugby World Cup, the RFU stated that their new objective was to fill Twickenham Stadium during the tournament. World records are good but they're also there to be broken. How many will join the history makers next time?