Harlequins Ladies are showing a statement of intent for the growth of women’s game as they bid for a world-record crowd at The Stoop on Saturday 10 March.
As the final preparations begin for their fixture at The Stoop against Richmond, for which they are aiming make history by hosting the biggest-ever crowd at a women’s club game, the women’s team spoke of their pride at being able to be visible and positive examples.
Falling just two days after International Women’s Day, Harlequins Ladies are committed to putting on a great show and being the inspiration for women and girls everywhere to get into rugby, whether as players, administrators or fans.
England and Quins back row Shaunagh Brown recognises there is responsibility for all the players to put on a good show of respect and sportsmanship, as well as exciting and high-quality rugby.
“When you know you’ve got young girls watching you, you want to be the best you can be, so they can be the best they can,” she said.
“It’s about being a role model.”
The players are already getting recognised by their young fans. Says hooker Davinia Catlin: “When we came off the pitch last Saturday, a little girl asked me to sign her shirt. That means the world to us. When I was younger, there just weren’t any visible female rugby players to look up to.”
As a PE teacher, Wales international and Quins second row Rebecca Rowe has a front-row seat to see how rugby inspires youngsters. “I often come in on a Monday with black eyes or I’m so stiff I can barely move. The school are very understanding and the kids absolutely love hearing my rugby stories!”
“But the support we get now on and off the field is definitely on a par with international teams. Growing up, my role model wasn’t a rugby player because back then there weren’t many women and girls playing high-level rugby. So for the younger girls that’s probably very different and it’s a good thing.”
Young Quins debutantes Izzy Mayhew and Ellie Green agree.
“We want to inspire younger girls to try rugby and want to be a Harlequin one day,” said Mayhew.
“I look up to all the girls I play with now and from the step up from juniors to women, the support around us is amazing,” added Green.
The teammates also praised the efforts of Harlequins Rugby in supporting the women’s team in their bid to become the first Tyrrells Premier 15s champions and foremost women’s team in England.
Catlin says: “It’s great to see the forward-thinking of Quins. To think we are going to be the future and worth investing in, it’s not just time and money, it’s the expertise that we’re receiving. We’re so privileged to be part of Harlequins.”
She continued: “There’s still a long way to go – ideally, we’d all like to be professional athletes doing what the boys do on a daily basis – that’s the dream. But when I started playing 10 years ago in the English league, it was totally different.”
Rebecca Rowe said: “I hope we’re paving the way for the future and for women’s rugby one day to be on the same level as the men’s.
“Quins is just like a family. I spend a lot of time going down to Surrey Sports Park during the day when the men are down there for physio and rehab and you’re just consisdered as another person in the club.
“I think Quins is leading the way and that is a blueprint for women’s rugby to move in the right direction.
Swedish loosehead prop Tove Viksten adds another perspective to the support Quins give the women’s team – and the impact that is having on the game around the world.
“We’re so lucky to have access to everything the men do; strength and conditioning trainers, physio, coaches, nutritionists,” she says.
“We’re not the women’s team; it’s just one big club. I’ve just moved over here to play rugby. In Sweden it is a tiny sport so to come here is a really big deal. England and Harlequins are pushing the women’s game forward internationally, not just in the UK.”
Harlequins have announced their fixture against Richmond will feature a Festival of Women’s Sport, featuring come-and-try sites from England Hockey, England Netball, British Rowing and many others.
UK Sport, who will also be attending as part of their DiscoverYourGold campaign, have also added their support, with UK Sport chair Dame Katherine Grainger saying: “This is a great initiative by Harlequins and we are excited to be part of the wider message of promoting women in sport at this match.”
Attending in support of fellow female sportswomen are Olympic gold medallists including athlete Christine Ohuruogu and hockey stars Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh and Alex Danson.
And the players are eagerly looking forward to taking on their local rivals Richmond at The Stoop on Saturday 10 March.
“The atmosphere is going to be great,” says Catlin.
Rowe added: “For most women’s games we don’t get to play in front of a huge crowd so to be playing in front of a record breaking crowd at The Stoop will be amazing for everyone involved.
“Richmond are the neighbours; it’s always a very exciting and physical match and I think it’ll make for great viewing.
Brown recognises it is a real chance to showcase their sport.
“There are a lot of girls’ teams coming to watch, which is fantastic as it’s more promotion for the women’s game,” she say.
“You’ll also have men coming down as they may be fathers bringing their daughters – they’ll realise that girls can play rugby and it means they’ll keep coming back.”
Rowe agrees: “It’s going to be great entertainment and in support of women’s rugby and women’s sport.”
Harlequins Ladies suffered only their third narrow league defeat to Gloucester Hartpury on Saturday but remain on course for the play-offs and will keep one eye firmly on the inaugural Tyrrells Premier 15s final, which takes place at West London club Ealing Trailfinders on Sunday 29 April.
The team are bidding to welcome a world record crowd for a women’s club match and the biggest crowd for a women’s game outside of a Women’s Rugby World Cup Final, at The Stoop. The iconic venue is just across the road from where Harlequins took on Richmond in 1909, in the first-ever rugby match at England’s home of rugby, Twickenham Stadium.
Get down to Twickenham if you can. Tickets are priced £10 for adults and £5 for juniors and can be purchased online from tickets.quins.co.uk or by calling the ticket office on 020 8410 6000.