25 October 2019

England's Sarah McKenna believes Red Roses can fill Twickenham, but it might take a while to get there

England and Saracens' Sarah McKenna believes the Red Roses can sell-out Twickenham, emulating the success of football's Lionesses at Wembley - but it could take ten years to get there.

Phil Neville's team have sold out 90,000-capacity Wembley for next month's friendly against Germany and McKenna has got the home of English rugby's 82,000-seater stadium firmly in her sights.

She said: "I think we need to continue to sell-out grounds like Sandy Park and maybe take that to Twickenham.

"We've seen what the Lionesses have done with Wembley. England women could do that too. I really think it's possible. The exposure the Lionesses had in France [at the World Cup] was unbelievable and I think that's snowballed over the last few years. 

"The more people who watch with positive experiences, following that up with TV coverage like with Sky Sports, that snowball effect would mean people want to be there in person. There's no reason England women can't do the same.

"I hope England women can play in front of a sell-out crowd, it would be an unbelievable thing to do."

Currently when the Red Roses play at Twickenham they feature in a double-header with the men, usually playing after them. However, in June the women played the Barbarians before the men's match and had a crowd of 35,000, something McKenna said was "amazing to experience".

While the England star does want more crowds at Twickenham, McKenna wants to go to grounds that will give the Red Roses the best attendances.

McKenna says it's an 'unbelievable' feeling to play in front of big crowds (PA Images)

She said: "The feeling being out before the Baa-Baas was really great.

"When we went to Exeter we took it to an audience who may have never watched women's rugby before.

"I remember going into Exeter's town centre in my England kit and everyone was excited for the match and knew it was happening. They wanted us there.

"That, paired with an Exeter crowd was an unbelievable recipe for what happened that weekend." England beat Italy 55-0 in front of a record Women's Six Nations crowd of 10,545 fans.

McKenna added: "When the crowd gets going singing swing low it is an amazing experience. It is hard because we're not used to playing in front of big crowds, so when there is one we feel it even more. We want to perform even more. 

"The crowd can feel like an extra man on that pitch and it really does help us."

McKenna won the Premiership last season (Lara Miller)

McKenna isn't just an England player though, she is also the full-back of the most successful women's team in the Premier 15s - Saracens. 

The Sarries player is happy with her side's unbeaten run and is confident that they can retain the premiership title, though she is adamant they will not become complacent.

She said: "I think we are more than capable of doing it. We've got more than enough in our armoury to do so.

"There are some other teams in the league that are doing exciting things who have their eyes on the top spot, but just looking within, we feel confident. Having won the premiership before we know what it takes.

"We know how to get through a season at the top of the table, how to get to the play-offs and win a final. We don't have the unknown. However, any team at the top could become complacent but there is no risk of that happening at Saracens."

Harlequins are currently above the defending champions in the table, though they are only ahead due to points difference. Saracens' London rivals will be seeking revenge for last year's final loss but McKenna isn't worried.

"I think Harlequins look brilliant. I've watched their footage and they are playing some fantastic rugby. I've enjoyed watching them, but I'm looking at Saracens.

"We showed last year against Quins, we were down for the majority of the game and came back to win it, so we have got confidence in all elements of our game. I think we know how to grind out results."

The defending champions face third-in-the-table Gloucester-Hartpury this weekend and, while the captain is feeling confident their opponents did cause them problems last year.

McKenna said: "I know with the fixtures last season against Gloucester we faced some challenges. The style of play that they played with last year really caused some problems for us so I think it's going to be a tough game.

"I have always really enjoyed playing them. It's going to be a tough challenge."

Saracens are hosting Gloucester-Hartpury at Allianz Park on Saturday, with the kick off at 6.45pm. 

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