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England ramp up growth targets

In 2014 the Rugby Football Union established some challenging targets for women’s rugby in England following their World Cup win. Today they announced that these targets had been met – and laid down new challenges for the game. 

When England won the World Cup in 2014 they represented the peak of a game that featured 15,000 active players playing contact rugby. Following that, an ambitious target of expanding the game to 25,000 players by 2017 was established.

At a press launch for the new England “identity” (more about that later) it was announced that that target had not only been met a year early, but that new targets were now being set that would see the current 26,000 active players grow to 50,000 by 2021.

The RFU clearly sees that the development of the “grassroots” game is key the future health of the game – and that women’s and girls’ rugby is central to that.

A target of 50,000 active, full contact, players is very ambitious, bringing rugby close to sports like hockey in terms of participation. But it was not the only target announced.

  • The number of club games played, each weekend, to more than double by 2021
  • The number of women’s teams to grow by 75%
  • An increase in the number of women’s clubs to over 400
  • Over 150,000 girls to be given a taste of rugby
  • Women’s coaches and referees to grow by 50%
  • The development of a new top-level competition between the Women’s Premiership and the national team.


In addition, a big focus will be in transitioning – ensuring that as many juniors stay in the game after 18 as possible.

Rugby Development Director Steve Grainger said: “We set ourselves an ambitious target when launching our strategy in 2014 to get 25,000 women participating in contact rugby. We're delighted to have exceeded this target one year ahead of schedule thanks largely to the great work and dedication of our clubs and volunteers.

“We have created more playing opportunities in schools, clubs and universities, increased investment in facilities and strengthened our coaching base. We are also grateful to Sport England, whose financial support has contributed significantly to this growth.

“With over 300 rugby clubs across the country now hosting women and girls’ teams, there are numerous opportunities for women and girls across England to participate in rugby whether that be sevens, 15s or O2 Touch. The England Women have also played a big role, driving interest in the game following their Rugby World Cup win in 2014 and exposing the sport to a wide audience through the sevens teams’ participation in Rio and the strong performance of the 15s last season.”

A major part of this is the creation of an “image” or “profile” for the England Women’s team, which will now have the official nickname of the “Red Roses” – the aim being to duplicate the success the Football Association has had with their national team, the “Lionesses”.

As profiles go it’s not new – the England team has been known (unofficially) as the “roses” for many years. But, if a marketing profile is needed, building on one that already exists is a sensible move.

Officially the “Red Roses campaign” will aim to “create a unique identity for England Women and underlines England Rugby’s commitment to growing women’s rugby” and the launch featured a truly inspirational film was unveiled (above), depicting a young girl’s journey to become a Red Rose that anyone who has worked in junior rugby would identify. It is well worth seeing.

RFU Chief Executive Ian Ritchie said: “Today England Rugby has demonstrated its commitment to the women’s game. We wanted to create an identity for England Women that would inspire more people to get involved whether playing or supporting the women’s game.

“The sport is in an exciting place with England as current Women’s Rugby World Cup champions and the rugby sevens in the Olympics Games in Rio showcasing women’s rugby to new audiences. With more professional contracts, and ever-increasing investment in the women’s game from grassroots to elite level, we feel this is a pivotal moment to shine a spotlight on the game in this country.

“We want to grow our fan base and ultimately get more women and girls considering rugby as an option for them to play. Intrinsically linked with England Rugby, the red rose encapsulates so much of what it means to be an England player.”

The campaign will run across social media channels, helping to promote key activities, starting with the Old Mutual Wealth Series, when the Red Roses take on the world’s top teams in France, New Zealand and Canada. We also learnt that the French and Canadian games will be shown live on Sky, while the New Zealand game will be streamed and that Autumn international are now a permanent part of England’s calendar to 2020 and beyond.

England player Sarah Hunter said: “As a girl I dreamt of playing rugby for England. From January, I will play under professional contract, something I didn’t imagine would happen in my playing career.

“Red Roses feels like all of our hard work and commitment is being recognised. When I pull on the white shirt with the red rose, and walk out on the pitch for the Old Mutual Wealth Series, I know that I am part of something bigger than the 14 players around me.”

Old Mutual Wealth Series

England v France, Wednesday 9 November
The Twickenham Stoop, KO 7.30pm

Ireland v England, Sunday 13 November*
University College Dublin, KO 2pm
*Not part of Old Mutual Wealth Series

England v New Zealand, Saturday 19 November
The Twickenham Stoop, KO 12pm

England v Canada, Saturday 26 November
Twickenham, KO 5.05pm
FREE entry after the conclusion of the men’s game