RFU Chief Executive Ian Ritchie has said the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup will be a catalyst for growth in women’s rugby.
The World Cup will be hosted in Ireland this summer and the Red Roses head into the competition as world champions having won in Paris three years ago.
“As champions we want to defend that title,” Ritchie told the England rugby website.
“The Six Nations will be an important testing ground and we should be in a position to give it a very good shot.
“Paris in 2014 was a great catalyst for growth and Ireland can be the same. It will be an important boost for women’s rugby.”
Ritchie said the women’s game had moved on a great deal since the last edition of the tournament, the first time England had won the World Cup.
“Look what has happened since then  both in terms of the numbers of participants but also the move to professionally contracted players, an increase in autumn internationals and a greater prominence for the Six Nations.
“I think it is inevitable that the women’s game is going to continue to grow. It is undoubtedly the biggest growth area of rugby in this country in terms of participants and I think the World Cup will add to that.”
The success of England’s elite side over the last few years has been reflected in growing numbers of participants in the grassroots game.
This week marked the launch of the Inner Warrior campaign, designed to encourage more women and girls to take up contact rugby.
“We announced our intent earlier in the year to double our numbers of participants in the women’s and girls game to reach 50,000 over the next four years,” said Steve Grainger, RFU Rugby Development Director.
“The Inner Warrior campaign is part of that target and the aim is to to excite, energise and engage women’s players.”