England are prepared to take a financial hit by staging home Tests away from their money-spinning 82,000 capacity Twickenham headquarters in a bid to boost the national popularity of rugby union.
Grounds in northern cities such as Manchester or Newcastle could be used for at least some of England’s warm-up games ahead of next year’s World Cup in Japan.
But Steve Brown, the chief executive of England’s governing Rugby Football Union, said they had no plan as yet to take showpiece home games in the Six Nations away from Twickenham in southwest London.
Since rugby union turned professional in 1995, England have played only five home games at anywhere other than Twickenham, with the most recent a resounding win over minnows Uruguay at the City of Manchester Stadium that rounded off a miserable first-round exit at the 2015 World Cup.
Although England got a good reception in Manchester, Brown’s predecessor, Ian Ritchie, ruled out taking further England home games on the road because of the sheer millions of pounds generated by every international at Twickenham.
But Brown believes there will be a long-term benefit to England taking matches out of London.
“The game needs to go to a different part of the country. There is no question it needs be more accessible — England needs to be more accessible full stop,” he said.
“There may well be some options that we look at with the World Cup warm-ups. There’s a good chance we’ll start to see us playing in different parts of the country.”
Brown added: “There are some real heartlands in the north-east and the north-west. There’s competition with football and rugby league at the community level, but there’s great history there too.”
And Brown insisted it was important these games were not rare fixtures.
“The other thing is to make it a regular feature,” he said. “We don’t want it to just be a one-off and that’s the challenge. An autumn Test could be an option.
“It doesn’t have to be a football stadium but we had 55,000 for Uruguay in the World Cup. That’s the scale that we’ll be looking at.
“If we were to take a call to reduce our income, that’s less money to put back into the game, but it’s a balancing act because the game would be an investment to increase interest and participation.”
The RFU considered a similar option in 2012 in the run-up to the World Cup, as they looked to promote the game nationally ahead of hosting the tournament in 2015. As it is, a Test clash with Argentina in 2009 still the last time that England have ventured north outside of the aforementioned World Cup.
© Agence France-Presse (with additional edits from Simon O’Keeffe)