“Our first caps it was pretty much just your parents and your family that were in the crowd,” recalls Emily Scarratt.
A lot has changed in the 15 years since she won her first England cap as a nervous 18-year-old in front of around 100 fans at Esher Rugby Club. Since then, she’s won 100 caps, a World Cup, a host of individual honours and been part of the ground-breaking group that turned professional in 2019.
Whilst there have been plenty of moments along the way which have been landmarks in the growth of women’s rugby and Scarratt’s individual journey, the magnitude of change will be as visibly evident as it has ever been this weekend as Twickenham hosts the Red Roses for a stand-alone fixture for the first time.
Over 50,000 fans have already got tickets to see them face France on Saturday (1pm), but that number is expected to rise in the run-up to the game with seats still available here. That means the current attendance record for an international women's rugby match, set when 42,579 fans watched the Red Roses lose last year's Rugby World Cup final against New Zealand at Eden Park, will be smashed out the park.
Whilst Scarratt, ruled out of the Six Nations through injury, will also be reduced to a role watching from the packed stands, it is still a moment of reflection of just how far things have come.
“You don’t often reflect on things whilst you’re still playing, but certainly to look back to where we started…,” she says. “I definitely wouldn’t have believed you [if you said England would be selling 50,000 at Twickenham]!”
“We’ve reflected a lot today, and me and Sarah Hunter (former England captain) have just had big smiles across our faces the whole time.
“The tangible number is the amount of people watching us now compared to back then, and we have been a part of that journey. You’re looking down the barrel at 50,000 fans at Twickenham, and hopefully a lot more come.
“Although we won’t be involved in it, it’s such a huge moment. A world record crowd, the opportunity to play in a Grand Slam decider, almost like a Six Nations final. The Sugarbabes are on at half-time as well - if all those things don’t excite you, I don’t know what will!
“It just visibly, tangibly shows the growth of the game in terms of where we’re at, the appetite for women’s rugby and how much people get behind women’s sport at the moment, which is amazing. We’re just super glad to be on that journey and it should be an amazing weekend.”
The stage could not be more perfectly set, with Le Crunch taking the form of a Grand Slam decider with the two old rivals both winning four out of four in this year’s tournament.
The Red Roses have responded perfectly to their heartbreaking defeat to New Zealand in the final of the Women’s Rugby World Cup in November and now have a perfect chance to finish the job on their biggest stage.
“I love the Six Nations, I always have,” Scarratt says. “Whether it was watching it as a kid or being able to take part in it as a player, so I’m gutted I haven’t been able to take part.
“But I’m trying to be the biggest fangirl possible to the girls, and still being involved here and there, staying in touch with some of the girls. Just inevitably gutted not to be playing in it this year.
“Obviously [World Cup final defeat to New Zealand] wasn’t the way we wanted to finish the World Cup. We went there to win it and we came up a little bit short.
“But I think ever since we got back together post-Christmas, the appetite of the girls to get going again, to be better, to push harder and make sure that doesn’t happen again in 2025 was huge.
“The first opportunity we’ve had to really try and express that has been this Six Nations, which the girls have attacked so hard and worked incredibly hard to better those performances.
“It’s been well-documented that we’ve had a lot of injuries, a lot of retirees, pregnancy etc. There’s a lot of disruption that happens naturally after a World Cup cycle.
“But the newcomers to the squad, combined with those older heads, have really gelled well and are going so well at the moment.
“The England-France game is going to be an absolute battle. We play France so often, and the recent results we’ve had against them over the last five or so years have all been super tight. Luckily we’ve been on the right side of most of them.
“There’s no love lost between the two sides, and it could be an epic battle.”
There is no escaping the fact that Saturday’s game is a big moment for Women’s rugby, and whilst that is something to be celebrated, Scarratt is, rightly, quick to point out that the quest to keep moving forwards cannot stop here.
“It’s just more of the same, isn’t it?” Scarratt says regarding her hopes for the future of the game.
“It’s a very proud moment to know that it’s not just us, but combined with England Rugby, the world of rugby, the individuals along the way, all the commercial sponsors, everything combined has got to a point now where at least 50,000 people want to come and watch us at Twickenham.
“That’s just an amazing place to be, and I think we can be really proud of where we’ve got to, but then let’s not sit on that, let’s keep pushing and see where we can take it to.
“It’ll be fascinating to see what the number ends up like for this England-France game, then it’s just consistency of getting those numbers every time we play at home.
“Then continuing the growth around the world - when we play away, can we continue to push people supporting there?
“We had a record crowd at the England-Wales game in Cardiff, all the other unions and nations are pushing on in terms of their contracts, their professionalism, their commercial support.
“We just want much more of the same and continue to grow our game as we go.”
Whatever the outcome of Saturday’s landmark version of Le Crunch, the future of the Red Roses looks bright and more Twickenham showcases are surely on the horizon.
England Rugby partner, O2, is on a mission to help close rugby’s gender awareness gap. They recently announced a new partnership with the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and Women’s Sport Trust with the mission to fill Twickenham Stadium by 2025.
To aid this, O2 and the RFU have co-funded a half-time performance by the Sugababes for the Red Roses v France Women’s 6 Nations match on Saturday 29 April. For tickets, visit https://www.eticketing.co.uk/rfu/Events