Early on the morning of Saturday, 15 October, over 100 rugby fans gathered in Victoria, London for the official Rugby World Cup 2021 watch party of the thrilling pool C clash between France and England.
The event was organised by Victoria Rush, director of No Woman No Try, Ali Donnelly, author of Scrum Queens, and Jenny Mitton, director at M&C Saatchi Sport and Entertainment, and was sponsored by World Rugby.
The idea came from Twitter, as fans in England had been vocal about feeling removed from the action as everything is taking place in New Zealand.
The trio were spurred into action and members of the rugby community offered their services to help the event take place.
As it happened
Fans arrived at Sports Bar and Grill at 07:30 local time (GMT+1) and enjoyed the displays from the World Rugby museum, presented by Dr Lydia Furse. Dr Furse told the audience — which included children as young as three years old — about the history of women’s rugby. By kick-off, there was an even greater appreciation for the history of the game.
The crowd roared for 80 minutes, enjoying the nail-biting Le Crunch contest. In one booth was Bryony Cleall, England international and twin of Poppy Cleall, who came off the bench at the 55-minute mark, and Lydia MacDonald, sister of England starter Claudia MacDonald.
MacDonald ran for 74 metres for England, the furthest of any player on the pitch. No cheers were louder than from the Cleall-MacDonald booth, when one of their sisters made a break or England scored a try.
The game was non-stop action, with England putting a lot of pressure on France from the start, but Les Bleues did not give in. France got within six points of England but the Red Roses clung on to their lead and celebrated their 27th win in a row. The pub was full with the sound of cheers and the odd groan from France fans.
Had France won the match, they would also have won the Utrecht Shield, a challenge trophy that has tracked the winners of every women's test match. It currently belongs to England and David Algie, the guardian of the shield, took the opportunity to present the award to Cleall on behalf of England Rugby.
After the storm
After the match, there was a live Q&A session hosted by Jessica Hayden, rugby journalist and presenter, with Cleall, Lénaïg Corson, France player and Barbarian, plus Nick Heath, ITV commentator for the tournament.
Heath commented on how wonderful it was to have a room full of women’s rugby fans. In response to a question about sexism in sport, Carson said these events are crucial to moving the conversation about women’s rugby forward.
The final question came from Imogen, a seven-year-old Red Roses fan stood in the front row, wearing a much-too-big England rugby shirt, who wanted to know the age that Cleall was when she started playing.
“I was six,” Cleall said. “My brother played rugby after school and our mum made Poppy and I wait for him to be finished before picking us up.
"We saw a girl train with them once, and she was caked in mud. We looked at her and thought ‘yep, that’s what we want to do!’”
The event also helped raise money for Brave Mind, a charity aimed at educating people about mental health.
(Photo credit: Danté Kim. Instagram: @dante.k.photo)