The Rugby Football Union plan to revamp the Twickenham experience for players and supporters in a bid to repair the fractured relationship between Jamie George’s England team and its fanbase.
Personalised messages for players will be put up inside the England changing room before their next Guinness Six Nations match against Wales on Saturday. There will also be new features for supporters with more special effects and big screen content as well as a greater employment of match statistics for what will be a 82,000 sellout at Twickenham.
Soon after being appointed captain as the successor to Owen Farrell, who has stepped away from international rugby, George told head coach Steve Borthwick that building a stronger connection with supporters ranked among his top priorities and now the RFU are taking up several suggestions from the playing group.
An RFU spokesperson said: “At the start of this Six Nations campaign, with a new captain and new players coming into the team, we held meetings with Jamie and the playing group to understand how they would like to see the match day experience at Twickenham evolve over time. We will be using this feedback to find new and innovative ways of engaging with fans through social media and in stadium experiences.
“For this Six Nations we have new branding in and around the changing rooms including personalised messages for players. In the Twickenham Stadium bowl there will be more special effects, big screen content and increased utilisation of match day stats. As we saw in Rome players always appreciate the support of our England fans and we look forward to seeing and hearing more of that this weekend.”
Despite receiving a vociferous backing in their semi-final defeat to South Africa and their opening backs-to-the-wall victory against Argentina, there were other times when England were booed by their own supporters during the World Cup. Even before the tournament, England only attracted an attendance of 56,854 for the warm-up match against Fiji in a growing sense of apathy at both the results and performances.
Last month George told Telegraph Sport that his uncle, Robbie, warned him that the team was losing its connection with their supporters which he described as a “red flag”. Improving results, as Borthwick has said, is the first way of improving the relationship after three successive Six Nations Championships in which England have only won two matches. Speaking in the build-up to the match in Rome, George stated that he wanted to bring the feel-good factor back to English rugby.
“You can lose sight of the impact you can have on so many people, putting smiles on people’s faces,” George said. “We want people to enjoy travelling over, we want to put a product on the field that people are proud of and ultimately the enjoyment factor of following England rugby. Whether that is people travelling or people turning on the TV at home, we want people to be very proud of what the England rugby team put out on the field.”
In their opening 27-24 victory, there was also evidence that England were expanding their attacking horizons, deploying significantly less kicking than they did at the World Cup. “At the very front of our minds, what comes first, is the intent to play, the intent to get behind the ball and attack the defence, and go and try and break the line and score tries,” fly half George Ford said. “Since coming in maybe two weeks ago, that’s been the biggest mindset shift, I’d say, from us as a team.”
While England’s narrowest ever victory over Italy may not have set the world alight, George was adamant that they could target a first Championship title since 2020. “I don’t want anyone to be involved in this squad if they don’t genuinely believe we can go and challenge the best and win this tournament,” George said. “We’ve got a great opportunity to be back in front of our fans and really give them something to smile about.”