Red Roses to return to Sandy Park
By Flo Eggins
England Women will return to Sandy Park to face France on Saturday 16th November (KO 1.10pm) as part of their Autumn Test Series.
The series will include three fixtures, including two Quilter Internationals on home soil.
The Red Roses face France at the Stade Marcel Michelin in Clermont-Ferrand on Saturday 9 November, KO 2.10pm local time (1.10pm UK time).
The teams will meet at Sandy Park a week later before Simon Middleton's outfit take on Italy at Bedford Blues' Goldington Road (Saturday 23 November, KO 3.00pm).
Both venues have previously hosted England matches. The Six Nations match against Italy at Sandy Park, Exeter in March 2019 drew a record 10,545 attendance for an England Women ticketed home game outside of a Rugby World Cup.
While this will be the first time Bedford has hosted a Red Roses international, England men’s U20s’ Six Nations clash against Italy took place at a sold-out Goldington Road earlier this year.
England Women head coach Simon Middleton said: “Playing France at any time is always a real challenge, it’s one of the toughest places to go.
“To then come back and play them on home soil at Exeter will be great. When we played there against Italy in the Six Nations it was probably the highlight of the tournament, with the exception of actually winning the competition.
“The way the crowd and the people of Exeter embraced the Red Roses left the biggest impression on all the players and the staff. If we get that again, it would be tremendous.
“Italy had a fantastic Six Nations and they are probably the emerging nation in Europe at the moment.
“France and England have been traditionally strong for a long time but Italy have progressed over the last few seasons. They’re flamboyant, unpredictable and have lots of facets to their game and it’s always a challenge to play against them.
“Bedford are a great club. When I was coaching at Leeds, every time we went to Bedford it would be sold out and the atmosphere was amazing. They play a brand of rugby that’s never compromised, ball in hand, great entertainment. The fixture itself, the way we’re trying to play and the way Italy play fits.
“It’s a fantastic ground and we know Bedford will embrace hosting an international fixture like Exeter and Doncaster did. Their fans are so passionate and love their rugby.”
Nicky Ponsford, RFU Head of Women’s Performance added: “Matches against two of our Six Nations opponents who we travel to play in 2020 will give a good indication of where we are as a group building on what we learnt in the summer.
“We’re delighted to be heading to Bedford and know the importance of taking the Red Roses to new audiences.
“Equally, Sandy Park is a first-class venue and we are really excited to work with Exeter Chiefs once again after the great experience both the players and fans had there last year.”
Tony Rowe OBE, Chairman and Chief Executive of Exeter Rugby Club, said: “As a club we are delighted to be welcoming the Red Roses back to Devon again this season. As last season’s record-breaking fixture proved, the support for women’s rugby here in the region is huge and is only going to grow moving forward, particularly after we announced this week that we are going to create our own women’s team.
“Sandy Park has proven over the years that it’s a venue fit for hosting international fixtures, so we’re expecting another capacity crowd and the people of the area to come out in force and support England Women.”
Bedford Blues chairman Geoff Irvine said:"We are delighted to welcome the England and Italy Women’s teams to Goldington Road for the Quilter Autumn Internationals in November, there will certainly be a huge buzz around the town having hosted the men’s U20s fixture last season.
“Bedford is a rugby town with a huge Italian community so it is the perfect setting for such an encounter and one that we are very proud to be hosting."
Matches between England and France are typically competitive affairs.
Emily Scarratt’s late penalty saw the Red Roses run out 20-18 winners in July’s thrilling Super Series fixture while they scored seven tries to France’s four in a Six Nations victory in Doncaster back in February.
Italy finished second at the 2019 Six Nations courtesy of an eye-catching bonus point win over France and will compete in Rugby Europe’s maiden 2021 World Cup qualification tournament which will be held in September 2020.