Womens rugby in England today faces a new future with the completion of the integration of the Rugby Football Union for Women (RFUW) with the Rugby Football Union (RFU)
Work has been underway for some time to put the structures in place for the sport which has seen an 87 percent increase in participation levels since 2004.
England join a number of other nations to have merged their womens body into the national union for the game but the RFUW was by far the largest standalone womens organisation of all to do so.
The RFUW merge with the RFU with a national set-up in rude health. England are the reigning Six Nations and European Champions at XV level while at the weekend they secured their spot at the 2013 Sevens World Cup while at the same time being crowned European Series Champions, giving them a number one ranking in the continent.
The RFU Board has established, initially for a two-year period, a Womens and Girls Integration Board to ensure that participation in the womens and girls game and the England elite set-up continues to receive the appropriate focus throughout the RFU.
Deborah Griffin, formerly Chair of the RFUW Board will become Chair of the new Integration Board.
RFU Chief Executive Officer Ian Ritchie said: We are very much looking forward to combining knowledge and resources and to welcoming new colleagues from the RFUW. This is a progressive move to make the Union even more inclusive going forwards, with our ultimate aim to broaden the reach of the game to the widest possible audience. Joining forces with the RFUW will allow us to do that.
The former RFUWs Acting Managing Director, Nicola Ponsford, and now RFU Head of Performance (Womens) has seen many changes over the years. An ex-England international herself, who played in Englands first ever international match against Wales in 1987, she became the RFUWs first paid employee in October 1998.
Ponsford said: Of the many positive changes Ive seen over the years, integration is certainly a high point. It is a recognition of the hard work and commitment of the organisations staff and volunteers, the vision for the game set early on and the commitment shown to overcome all the challenges.
We have had other highs along the way. Hosting the Rugby World Cup in 2010 was a massive success, with the tournament being recognised as the most successful Womens Rugby World Cup ever, the achievements of the England Womens representative squads over the years and the general recognition of their accomplishments.
Most recently we saw first-hand integration working at its best with the RFUW and the RFU working together to put on a record-breaking Marriott London Sevens weekend in May at Twickenham Stadium. Additionally, the integration of womens teams into the Rugby Club community, and the successful implementation of the Under 13 programme, introduced in 2011, underlines how successful and popular womens and girls rugby is at all levels.
While the actual date of integration is something to celebrate, work towards it has been going on for some time. Development targets and the funding submissions for the Whole Sport Plan are already integrated. Much has been already been achieved through the work of the development team and the number of girls playing rugby for the first is increasing all the time.
Integration is a huge step towards of seeing more and more women and girls playing and enjoying rugby.