On July 31, a crowd of 87,192 watched on at Wembley as the Lionesses sealed European glory and catapulted the remarkable evolution of women’s sport in England to another level.
Among the crowd at the home of English football that day were a handful of Red Roses — England’s women’s rugby side whose turn it is now to inspire the next generation.
In the early hours of Saturday morning, they will begin their World Cup campaign in New Zealand -a tournament for which they are overwhelming favourites.
Sarah Hunter is preparing to captain England at the World Cup in New Zealand from tomorrow
The Red Roses are heavy favourites to win the competition, having won 25 games in a row
The side are hoping to use inspiration from England’s football team as inspiration for success
Simon Middleton’s side headed to the southern hemisphere on the back of an extraordinary 25-match winning run — a rugby record for any team, male or female.
It will take a major shock for England’s rugby stars not to follow in the footsteps of their round-ball compatriots and lift a major title.
Doing so would seal a remarkable English double in 2022.
‘This team is on the verge of greatness,’ said England rugby captain Sarah Hunter in the excellent ITV documentary Wear The Rose: An England Rugby Dream, which aired this week.
‘But we won’t be great until we win that World Cup in New Zealand.With the increase of social media and exposure on TV, something we feel is so important is to try and inspire that next generation of Red Roses.’
Hunter said England ‘are on the verge of greatness’ and will reach it if the life the World Cup
The competition runs from tomorrow to Saturday November 12, when the final takes place
That ability to inspire the boys and girls of the future will, in time, surely be the legacy of today’s female stars.There has been no better time to be a woman in professional sport.
For starters, there is the ability to be able to play football, rugby and other sports as a career. That, criminally, was not a luxury afforded to women of the past. Today’s players realise that.
On Friday night, a sold-out Wembley crowd will watch Sarina Wiegman’s Lionesses face the USA.Tickets for the match went within 24 hours of them going on sale in August.
‘It speaks for itself when you sell out Wembley in the time we did,’ Lionesses and Manchester City defender and European champion Alex Greenwood told Sportsmail.
‘Since the Euros there has been an incredible change in women’s football.It shows we’re making a difference in a positive way.
England football defender Alex Greenwood (left) has wished the Red Roses all the success
‘For me, inspiring the next generation is up there with the most important things we can do.We sent a clear message with our open letter after the Euros about the need for change and we intend to follow through on everything we said. We want all young girls to have access to sport.
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‘What we’re asking for is more opportunity and it’s something we’ll keep demanding. I think it’s vitally important that from England to England and female to female, we support each other.
‘I know the Red Roses are a team in unbelievable form and they have a great chance to go to their World Cup and be successful.Our message to them is leave nothing out there and most of all, enjoy it.
‘They’ve probably got it in the back of their minds to inspire other girls to play rugby.
‘That was our message, but with football.Go and bring the trophy home!’
Hunter has said the transformation of women’s rugby in recent times has been ‘crazy’
The 37-year-old claimed this year’s competition will be ‘the biggest and most competitive yet’
The likes of Greenwood and Hunter and their team-mates know the fortunate position they are in. When they look back on their careers, their legacies can not only be on-field success but also significant change.
Their time is now and they are determined not to waste it.
‘We have a massive responsibility as female athletes today to leave our pkv games in a better place and that’s something we as footballers try to do day in, day out,’ Greenwood said.
Hunter, who tasted World Cup glory with England in 2014, will captain her team in their World Cup opener with Fiji in the early hours of Saturday morning.The Red Roses received a good luck message from the Princess of Wales ahead of kick-off.
‘Where women’s rugby is now is just crazy compared to the first World Cup I played in,’ said Hunter.
‘I genuinely believe this one in New Zealand will be the biggest and most competitive yet.You can’t not be excited by that and with the journey this team has been on, it feels like something special is happening. Hopefully that can continue. I don’t think we realise the potential of this team.
England won the tournament in 2014, but lost in the 2017 final to this year’s hosts New Zealand
Simon Middleton’s side will face Fiji, France and South Africa in Pool C of the competition
‘It was great to see the Lionesses as not just a female sports team, but an England sports team, do so well.You couldn’t not be inspired by the way they held themselves both on and off the pitch.
‘When they came under pressure in games, they managed those moments. There will be moments in our games when we’re under pressure and we can learn from what they did in terms of finding a way to win. In major tournaments you want to play your best game, but ultimately it’s about results.
‘The way the Lionesses soaked up pressure throughout the competition, especially at home, was impressive.They used that pressure as motivation rather than drowning in it.
‘There are lots of things we can be inspired by.’
There is no doubt women’s sport is growing and rapidly too. There are currently 40,000 women and girls playing rugby in England at all levels.That number, as it is in football, is rising year-on-year.
Hunter said the way the Lionesses soaked up the pressure in the summer was ‘impressive’