Photo credit: @HarlequinsWomen
Women’s rugby is on an incredible upward curve right now.
It seems that every five minutes something groundbreaking occurs, whether it be the introduction of full-time contracts, new sponsors for major tournaments or outstanding performances.
Attendance figures have also been smashed out of the park in the last few months, with the standalone Women’s Six Nations record being broken on several occasions during this year’s tournament.
However it’s not just the international game that the crowds have been flocking to see; the domestic game has experienced an influx of supporters too.
Last weekend Harlequins hosted a record-breaking 4,837 fans at their #GameChanger match against Gloucester Hartpury at The Stoop, beating the record they set the previous year at the same ground.
Harlequins may have only existed in their current guise since 2017 – having merged with Aylesford Bulls for the inaugural Tyrrells Premier 15s season – but they have been a crucial cog in this momentum shift in the women’s game.
They may be one of the oldest rugby clubs in the world but the childlike naivety with which they approach the women’s game is very refreshing.
It seems as though they refuse to accept the boundaries that have long since held women’s sport back and believe that anything is possible.
One thing that is clear the moment you walk into The Stoop is that Harlequins is a club which cares about its women’s team as much as it men’s.
From the moment you arrive at The Stoop you are met with pictures of players from both teams across the venue, from the car park to the club shop, heroising their biggest female names alongside the men.
Having also been fortunate enough to hear Quins’ CEO David Ellis speak about his plans to evolve the club over the next few years, it is clear that the women are just as much a part of that as anyone else.
📊 Some fantastic stats from the @Premier15s so far this season:
🏟 Best total attendance: Harlequins Ladies (12290)
🏉 Leading point scorer: @exgreen21 (126)
💪 Top kicker: @exgreen21 (116)
— Harlequins Ladies 🃏 (@HarlequinsWomen) April 3, 2019
This is something the players certainly recognise and is a key reason why, despite being very young in comparison to some of their Tyrrells Premier 15 opponents, they are attracting many of the best players to play for them.
This includes seven of the current Red Roses full-time set up, including the explosive Jess Breach, highly intelligent Leanne Riley and World Cup winning centre Rachel Burford.
Speaking as part of our Women’s Six Nations special in conjunction with SportSpiel and caytoo, Lyons said such an attitude towards the women’s squad was a key factor in her joining the club.
The versatile front row said: “There’s so much effort being put in behind the scenes which we barely notice but it’s massive.
“Quins is a massive advocate for equality – they want to make the women as equal as the men.
“And giving us our big #GameChanger, it’s like the boy’s big game over Christmas.”
The messaging and language used on their digital platforms is another indication of the way the women have been integrated within the club.
While they may have two separate accounts for their men’s and women’s teams, the branding used and the formatting of their messaging is clearly from the same handbook.
The interaction between the two accounts is also noteworthy, with both giving each other plenty of support and RTs/shares, although there are many clubs across rugby and football – in particular Chelsea – who also exhibit this.
Furthermore, their ‘DHL Quins Moment of the Month’ votes include almost always include clips from both teams, giving fans of the men’s squad glimpses showing that the women also employ the attractive, attacking brand of rugby that has epitomised the club since their formation.
Their promotional video for this year’s #GameChanger was also a stroke of genius.
While 28 of England’s finest Red Roses may be full-time professionals, the majority of elite domestic players in the country still have to hold down other jobs alongside playing the sport.
Yet rather than see this as a setback, Quins used it as a tool to show us that these women are superheroes off the pitch (as firefighters, doctors, police officers etc.) as well as on it.
— Harlequins Ladies 🃏 (@HarlequinsWomen) March 30, 2019
And with not only nearly 5,000 people attending the game but a reported 42,000 also watching the live stream on YouTube and Facebook, their desire to grow the game’s domestic fanbase certainly looks like it’s working.
Of course they aren’t the only club doing great things in terms of promoting the women’s game though and in our opinion there are changes they could make.
The presence of the women’s team on their website is limited, as are their player profiles when you do find them, while the use of the word ‘Ladies’ can be seen by some to be outdated (although several other teams also employ this term and Harlequins are reviewing its use at the moment).
The fact that they have only been able to host six games at The Stoop is also not ideal, although they will be the first to admit the interest in the women’s game just isn’t there to fill up a 15,000-seater stadium at the moment.
But times are changing and women’s rugby is growing ever more popular seemingly by the minute and no club is better proof of this than Quins.
If they and the other clubs keep progressing as they are, things are only going to get better.