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Women’s Rugby – Then and Now

A group of women in a changing room after a rugby match

Photo: Getty Images

Where it all began...

Women’s Rugby was first played seriously in Great Britain in the late 1970s. Early teams were established through the student network and included Keele University, The University College of London, Imperial College, York University and St Mary’s Hospital.

Until May 1994 Women’s’ Rugby was run by the Women’s’ Rugby Football Union (WRFU), formed in 1983. The WRFU was responsible for rugby in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. There were 12 founder teams as members in the first year; including Leicester Polytechnic, Sheffield University, UCL, University of Keele, Warwick University, Imperial College, Leeds University, Magor Maidens, York University and Loughborough University.

In 1994 the Rugby Football Union for Women (RFUW) was formed in England and in each of the other Home Nations they governed Women’s Rugby in their own countries. For the RFUW, major funding was obtained from the Sports Council in 1995 and this allowed the appointment of the first paid and full time member of staff. The position of National Development Officer was created in September 1996 with the aim of developing rugby at all levels, but with emphasis during the early stages of developing youth rugby.

Since this time further funding allowed the RFUW to expand its operation to include a Development and Performance Directorate, which was underpinned by an administrative structure to support both paid and volunteer officers in running the game, its competitions, membership services and development and performance initiatives.

England Women's Alice Richardson in action against New Zealand

Photo: Getty Images

In recent years a significant high point for the game was the 2010 Rugby World Cup in London. Although England failed to topple the world champions New Zealand in the final, the tournament was hailed as a massive success with record breaking crowd attendance and media coverage.

July 2012 then marked a significant day for Women’s Rugby in England with the completion of the integration of the RFUW with the RFU. With nearly 14,000 women and girls currently registered as playing each week, across 533 clubs, the game entered into this new era in a very strong position.


The RFU currently runs a Women’s Rugby Divisional Programme at three age groups (Senior, U18s & U15s), international fixtures for the England XVs (Senior and U20s) and England Sevens as well as two Cup competitions – the North/South Cup and the National Challenge Cup for the Seniors. There is also a National Sevens tournament for U18s and U15s.

Additionally it administers 21 leagues, featuring the National Premier League, the Championship and the National Challenge League. There are also leagues for U18s and U15s girls’ rugby.

Talent Identification and Player Development

Constituent Body rugby has an integral role in providing opportunities for talented players to participate at higher levels.

Most Constituent Bodies now run Senior, U18s and U15s teams, and participate in the RFU’s Women’s Rugby CB Competition. Talented players are then nominated to go to divisional trials to take part in the Divisional Programme, which is part of the RFU’s Talent ID and player development programmes.

Divisional rugby consists of four divisions – North, Midlands, London and South East and South West – across three age groups (U15s, U18s & Senior) and includes training, matches, camps and a festival for the U15s and U18s. The delivery of the Divisional Programme is overseen nationally by the RFU Women’s Player Development Manager (PDM) and divisionally by the RFU’s Divisional Talent Development Officers (DTDOs).

The overall aim of the Divisional Programme is to provide a challenging, high quality, performance environment within each Division which enables effective individual player development and provides players who have potential, ambition and commitment to become the best they can be.

Talented players identified at Divisional level progress on to various National Programmes within the player pathway. These include the U15s and U18s National Talent Development Camps, U20s trials to form the England U20s squad and the senior England Trials (Super Fours), which forms the England Elite Player Squad (EPS).

The Future

With Rugby Sevens now part of the Olympic programme, with the sport set to make its debut in 2016 at the Rio de Janeiro Games, the sport is going from strength to strength. There are plans to establish an IRB Women’s Sevens World Series in the 2012/13 season.

The next Rugby World Cup for the XVs game will be held in France in 2014. With the RFU setting the bar high in 2010, the tournament is set to be another captivating event with the world’s best 12 teams competing for rugby’s ultimate prize. England will of course be gunning for that crown with their last Rugby World Cup victory being in 1994. England have reached the Rugby World Cup final a massive five times.


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