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World Cup run goes hand in hand with growth of women's game

Ahead of the Women's Rugby World Cup final this weekend, Ali Donnelly blogs on our support for the women's game and why this Red Roses side is unlike any other.

9th November 2022

by Ali Donnelly
Executive director for digital, marketing and communications, Sport England

This weekend, before most have had their breakfast, England’s brilliant women’s rugby team will have appeared in another World Cup Final. 

It will be their sixth in a row and will see them face formidable opposition in the form of a New Zealand side who’ve been playing terrifically exciting rugby over the last six weeks. 

If you don’t know much about this England team, it is worth saying that they are absolutely remarkable. 

Their semi-final win over Canada was their 30th test win a row, a world-record breaking feat in the men’s or women’s game, and a run they’ll be desperate to continue. 

England captain Sarah Hunter catches a ball at a lineout during the 2021 Women's Rugby World Cup in New Zealand

Growing the game

As long-time supporters of women and girls’ rugby, Sport England has taken great pride in the growth of both the elite and the grassroots game here. 

And with the next women’s World Cup taking place here in less than three years’ time, the success of the national team is also providing a vital surge in interest that’s demonstrably translating to the growth of the community game. 

Over the past five years, the number of adult women playing rugby has grown from 25,000 to 40,000 in England and the Rugby Football Union (RFU) has ambitious targets as part of its Every Rose strategy to grow the numbers to 100,000 by 2027. 

Sport England has, of course, backed and supported rugby union at grassroots level for decades, with investment of more than £70 million in the sport’s infrastructure over the last ten years or so to make sure there are clubs, pitches, coaches and changing facilities of good quality for everyone playing the sport. 

And we have also specifically supported the women and girls’ game, recognising its impressive growth trajectory and that, as an activity that provides an outlet for participants of all shapes and sizes, it represents an important investment. 

If you don’t know much about this England team, it is worth saying that they are absolutely remarkable.

We’ve particularly accelerated support and investment in the women and girls’ game since the last time England hosted the World Cup in 2010. 

We worked alongside the RFU to establish a new women’s talent programme in 2009, helping to establish 11 centres of excellence around the country with a specific £5m investment to help the sport begin a performance pathway that would eventually lead to the professionalisation of its national team in 2019. 

And those centres of excellence have produced top class players, with several current England stars coming through them, including Sadia Kabeya, Maud Muir, Connie Powell and Morwenna Talling. 

We’re also huge supporters of the RFU’s ‘Inner Warrior’ campaign, which seeks to attract new players and convince women and girls that rugby is a game for them. 

The campaign’s been a big success, too, with more than 25,000 women attending Allianz Inner Warrior Camps at community rugby clubs since January 2017 and many going on to join women’s touch or contact rugby teams. 

This success is being built on, with more than 100 Allianz Inner Warrior events planned in this autumn, helping women and girls sample the game on the back of Red Roses’ run at the World Cup. 

Bouncing back

Despite the inevitable challenges rugby faced in recent years due to pandemic restrictions, it was exciting to see the initial bounce-back stats for the women’s game. 

According to the RFU’s National Rugby Survey, 38% of women said they're playing more now than before 2020, and ambitious plans were also set out recently for the development of the top league in women’s rugby - the Allianz Premier 15s. 

Looking to the future, we recently committed to investing a further £13m, over the next five years, into growing rugby union by allocating long-term resources to the RFU, who we have identified as one of our ‘system partners’. 

These are organisations we believe play a key role within sport at growing participation and in helping us deliver the ambitions of our Uniting the Movement strategy

A game for everyone

From a personal perspective, the growth of the women and girls’ game in England has been brilliant to see. 

Outside of my day job here, I am a huge advocate and supporter of women’s rugby, having played and coached in the sport for years. 

It is a wonderful game, among many on offer for women and girls in England, and one that genuinely does provide something for everyone given the nature and style of how it’s played. 

While the physicality of full contact rugby isn’t for everyone, for those who love that, it is a brilliant outlet, and the way in which you put your body on the line week in, week out, with your teammates, builds a camaraderie that I have found hard to match in any other sport. 

And for those who like the idea of an oval shaped ball, but who have no interest in the contact, there’s always touch rugby, a format I am personally atrocious at, but one which is brilliant for those with evasion skills! 

If you’re up for joining a club check out the RFU’s Find Rugby tool to find one near you and set your alarms for Saturday morning. 

England play New Zealand in the Women's Rugby World Cup final at 6.30am on Saturday November 12. 

The game is live on ITV1.

Watch the Red Roses

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