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England launch ambitious player growth plans

England have today launched their new Women and Girls Action Plan which runs through to 2021. 

England have set out ambitious plans to have 50,000 more active women's rugby players by 2021 - almost doubling their current active player base with a wider ambition to have 100,000 women engaging in the sport in various formats. 

There are currently 27,500 existing active players in England and today's new Women and Girls Action Plan. sets out targets to engage 100,000 women in the game and then converting 25,000 of them into regular players. 

England are also aiming to have 350 more adult women's teams by 2021, a significant boost to the current figure of 512. 

The RFU say that since 2013 the number of women and girls enjoying contact rugby in England has increased by over 10,000, as a result of campaigns including Pitch up and Play and Inner Warrior, focused on introducing new females to rugby. This surge in popularity has seen 300 rugby clubs across England providing playing opportunities for more than 25,000 women and girls each season.

To reach their 100,000 target the RFU will engage women and girls across a range of formats including focusing on XSevens, a format of 7s that is still in its early stages of growth but has proved a good testing base for initiating women's players into the game, working closely with O2 touch rugby, Pitch up and Play and other initiatives.  

The infrastructure needed to help deliver such ambitious numbers is also set out in the plan, which discusses encouraging more women to become team managers, volunteers, coaches and referees.  The growth plans include ensuring that there is relevant pitch space and facilities to allow women's teams to play on Saturdays - including a focus for funding for artificial pitches to be supported strongly for clubs with women and girls teams. The RFU say 51% of women's players would rather play club rugby on Saturdays. 

Steve Grainger, RFU rugby development director, said “Over the past four years our focus has been on working with volunteers in constituent bodies and clubs to successfully grow the numbers of girls and women playing and enjoying rugby and we have achieved great growth and exceeded our targets, with some 27,500 female players currently registered.”

 “Our current achievements are only the beginning and, as evident in the women and girls action plan, we are determined to enable as many women and girls as possible to experience and enjoy taking part in rugby union.

“Research shows that women’s attitudes toward sport are changing. They want physical activity to satisfy a number of needs: from contributing to a healthier lifestyle, to learning new skills and becoming the very best version of themselves. The women and girls action plan incorporates this insight, providing exciting new opportunities in clubs and education establishments across England, encouraging those who may have dismissed the sport as not being for them to try it.” 

Deborah Griffin, RFU Council women’s and girl’s representative and Board member, said, “At the time of the 1991 Women’s Rugby World Cup there were around 35 English clubs with women’s sides, compared with over 300 rugby clubs now hosting women’s and girls’ teams, and girls playing in schools and clubs at age group levels. A huge amount has been achieved. My biggest wish is to see all women and girls able to play at their local club, with coaching and development as good as for boys and men.”

There are also plans to boost commercial partnerships in women's rugby and change perceptions of the game.