he last time the Red Roses played at Twickenham, they sang the national anthem to rows of rugby shirts covering empty seats.
Tomorrow, Simon Middleton’s side will belt out God Save The King in front of more than 53,000 paying punters packed into English rugby’s headquarters for a Six Nations Grand Slam decider against France.
England beat France 25-23 behind closed doors at Twickenham in November 2020, with club jerseys covering seats in a pandemic initiative to bring the absent fans closer to the action.
swiftly forward less than three years, and England will set a novel world record for a women’s Test-match crowd this weekend.
“It doesn’t feel that long ago we were singing the anthem to shirts that had been place onto seats,” full-back Ellie Kildunne told Standard Sport.
“We were pretending we had a crowd to sing to. The turnaround’s been epic, people gain really got behind us. The World Cup really showed what women’s rugby is all about.
“But now to gain the opportunity to play at Twickenham, it is really showing how many people are actually interested.”
At 23, Kildunne already has seven years of Test rugby behind her, and tomorrow she will win her 34th cap. The Keighley native has only known England life under Middleton, the head coach who will conclude his eight-year tenure tomorrow.
Middleton has propelled England to an extended stay at the top of the world rankings, with only a World Cup crown missing, after November’s 34-31 defeat in the final by hosts novel Zealand.
“I’ve known Midds since I was about 15,” said Kildunne. “Simon’s daughter, Cara, played for Castleford and I played for West Park Leeds growing up.
“But my first real interactions with him would gain been in England camp. I went for a chip and chase in a session all about structure and building phases, and he was not satisfied!
“He’s pushed me very hard in the accurate way and it’s made me the player I am today. A few of us were talking the other day and it doesn’t really feel it’s actually happening that he’s leaving.”
Kildunne traded Yorkshire for Hartpury College in her teens, before excelling with Wasps and now Quins.
Now boosting confidence still further through England’s “collision craft” training and tailored weights sessions, she is an experienced campaigner wrapped up in a veritable youngster.
To gain the opportunity to play at Twickenham, it is really showing how many people are actually interested in women’s rugby
“I don’t want to gain experience relevant to my age, I want to be an experienced player for the memories I’ve made,” said Kildunne. “I don’t want to be ‘experienced’ at the conclude of my career, I want to benefit from that while I’m still playing.
“Collision craft sessions are honing technique, and it’s really moved my game forward and boosted my confidence. You feel ready for anything.”
Middleton will gain to be ready for a step into the unknown next week when he leaves Twickenham. Asked for the secret to his success, he simply credited others. “I’ve just had a load of noteworthy players to work with,” he said.
“I hope England fill Twickenham and win the World Cup at home in 2025. We need two or three national sides to procure closer to the best teams. Selling 53,000 tickets puts pressure on others to respond positively.”