A record number of girls and boys were introduced to rugby in 2017, according to the World Rugby Year in Review 2017 released Tuesday, as the sport continues its unprecedented growth with 9.1 million men, women and children playing the sport in member unions worldwide.
Reaching new territories and expanding its global reach, World Rugby’s development programme Get Into Rugby has been a major catalyst behind the global rise in participation numbers, acting as a gateway for young people to try, play and stay in rugby.
In 2017, more than two million (2,139,300) girls and boys across 133 active unions took part in the programme, an increase of 7.5 per cent compared to 2016.
Rugby is now played in more countries than ever before with Get Into Rugby even reaching the tiny island of Nauru, north-east of Australia, with the first-ever women’s tag rugby tournament taking place on its beautiful white, sandy beaches in February 2017.
Meanwhile, Kiribati became the latest union to register for the programme, joining in December.
Significantly Oceania Rugby trained a further 1,900 coaches in 2017 to deliver Get Into Rugby activities across the region. This has more than doubled since 2016 (112 per cent) and marks the biggest regional growth in trained personnel worldwide.
Overall, Oceania Rugby recorded 81,500 new participants.
In addition, Get Into Rugby is now part of the PE curriculum in Fiji, a landmark development that will ensure even more young people are exposed to the sport.
A new online Get Into Rugby database is also being piloted in Fiji to help deal with the interest generated by the programme within the last 12 months.
Pleasingly, in a Women’s Rugby World Cup year, 39 per cent of all Get Into Rugby participants globally were female as World Rugby continues to prioritise the acceleration of the women’s game through its landmark 2017-25 Women’s Plan.
In total 2.4 million women and girls are playing rugby at all levels, accounting for more than a quarter (26 per cent) of players globally and an increase in player numbers of 60 per cent since 2013.
In an important step towards gender equality in the region, Oceania Rugby and the UN signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2017.
The partnership has seen both organisations use their shared mandates and influence to work together on activities that promote gender balance and challenge social norms through sport.
#GIR_Bangladesh— Get Into Rugby - Bangladesh (@GIRBangladesh) May 26, 2018
Get Into Rugby at St. Gregory High School and College
The all players are very much interested to participate the next Rugby Tournament.#BRFU @asiarugby @WorldRugby #Get_Into_Rugby #Smile_Through_Rugby #Run_With_Rugby pic.twitter.com/kZNVR3TgwO
As part of its commitment to promoting an equal playing field, Oceania Rugby oversaw an increase in mixed-gender Get Into Rugby festivals in 2017, driving forward rugby’s message of a game for all.
The Malaita Festival in the Solomon Islands recorded close to 800 participants, while 3,000 children were involved in the Crest West Kids festival in Fiji.
The latest figures also further demonstrate the youth appeal of a sport that is increasingly attracting new players and fans due to its character-building and inclusive values.
Coupled with record growth of its fan base to 338 million worldwide and a social media following of eight million across all World Rugby social and digital platforms, 2017 has been a ground-breaking year.
And with more than US$1 million earmarked for rugby projects in more than 40 National Olympic Committees (NOCs) in this first year of new Olympic Solidarity cycle, almost matching in one year the results over four years of the previous cycle, this growth looks set to continue.
World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said: “2017 was a fantastic year for Oceania Rugby on and off the field. It was particularly pleasing to see Get Into Rugby reaching even more young people in new territories in the region and seeing rugby adopted as part of the national PE curriculum in all schools in Fiji.
CONGRATULATIONS! Women’s rugby has been celebrated on the Queen’s Birthday honours list with Fiao’o Faamausili being made an Officer of the NZ Order of Merit (OZNM) for her services to rugby. Former Black Fern Rochelle Martin has also been made a Member of the NZ Order of Merit. pic.twitter.com/HWSJ01FnKc— Black Ferns (@BlackFerns) June 3, 2018
“In a record-breaking Women’s Rugby World Cup year, women and girls accounted for more than a quarter of players globally and 39 per cent of Get Into Rugby participants.
“Oceania Rugby’s partnership with the UN is a hugely significant step in encouraging and securing the increasing female participation in the region.”
Bruce Cook, General Manager – Oceania Rugby, said “Oceania Rugby is excited about the evolvement of the Get Into Rugby programme in our region. The Get Into Rugby programme is the major contributor to the continuous growth of rugby population through players, coaches, volunteers and fans.
“It creates opportunities for everyone and anyone to enjoy the game and also create pathways for everyone to achieve their dream of playing rugby at club, national or international level.”
Get Into Rugby promotes the character-building values of the game and allows children to experience rugby in a safe and progressive environment. Launched in 2013, a total of 5,948,556 participants have progressed through the programme.
The dedicated Get Into Rugby website – getintorugby.worldrugby.org – is now available in 15 languages: English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Brazilian, Portuguese, Arabic, Indonesian, Japanese, Dutch, German, Polish, Romanian, Hungarian, Korean and Russian.
Something is wrong in the state of England.
So wrote William Shakespeare and so opined England’s most-successful ever coach, Sir Clive Woodward, after the Red Rose fell apart spectacularly in Johannesburg to lose the first Test against the Springboks after leading 24-3 in the first 20 minutes.
“Something is not right because they are normally very good defensively,” said Woodward on BBC Radio 5 live.
“The bubble has burst and teams have recognised that the way to beat England is by playing an all-out fast game.”
The defeat followed a disappointing Six Nations campaign where England lost three of their five matches, meaning Jones’ side have now lost four on the trot.
"The two (SA) wingers look like they run as fast as Usain Bolt.' - Eddie Jones. pic.twitter.com/i9ci1HQBVx— Clinton van der Berg (@ClintonV) June 9, 2018
A far cry from the Australian’s start in the job, where England went on a record-equalling run of 18 Test wins in a row.
Woodward did praise the first 20 minutes of Saturday’s match as “some of the best rugby I have ever seen England play”.
But Springbok star Faf de Klerk said the Boks were confident that England would fade – as they did.
“We knew they were going to get a bit tired on the high veldt,” De Klerk said. “England were staying [at sea level] in Durban, and we wanted to take advantage.”
The decision to set-up a base camp in up market Umhlanga just outside Durban, and only travel to match venues the day or so before the game, may prove to be Jones’ undoing – as it was for Woodward when he did the same for the British & Irish Lions on their New Zealand tour in 2003.
The 2005 Lions lost all three Tests comfortably and if England does the same on this tour the clamour for Jones’ exit may grow from a murmur to a dull roar.
An extraordinary situation considering where the Australian was at less than six months ago.
An extract about when Ozil fell out with Jose Mourinho.— TheArseneView (@TheArseneView) June 11, 2018
What. A. Read. 😳 pic.twitter.com/yTCtxtnlmV
Jones’ problem, like his football counterpart Jose Mourinho, is he has no plan B.
Both men have usually come into under-performing teams and their effect is immediate. They give the side a honeymoon boost and are title contenders by their second season.
Jones won Super Rugby with the Brumbies in 2001, took Australia to the RWC Final in 2003 (beating the All Blacks en route) and England won the Six Nations in his first and second year in charge. Mourinho won second-year titles with Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid.
But even harder than getting to the top is staying there and both Mourinho and Jones have problems here – almost every coach in history has apart from notables like Bill Shankly and Sir Alex Ferguson, and modern counterparts Bill Belichick (New England Patriots) and Steve Kerr (Golden State Warriors).
Mourinho and Jones’ coaching histories follow a similar pattern: promising start in season one, title glory in season two and stagnation followed by poor results, bitter acrimony and a hasty exit in season three.
Both men now have a chance to change that. Jones is in his third year with England and Mourinho is entering his third with Manchester United.
But to do that they need to abandon some of their old ideas and embrace new ones. Both men are accused of being too rigid.
Mourinho is too conservative and Jones, in complete opposite, too obsessively attacking.
United can’t score goals, despite an embarrassment of attacking riches, while England have no problem scoring tries but can’t defend them.
England seem to have lost their identity while United can’t find one.
Both men are victims of their own success and have huge expectations around them, as well as being in charge of very high-profile sporting teams, and nothing but success will be tolerated.
England are just fifteen months out from a Rugby World Cup and they will need to make a quick decision on whether or not to pull the trigger on Jones’ reign, similar for Mourinho – ongoing poor results will increase the pressure on his tenure.
For both men the magic formula for that success needs to be found – and fast.
Brits attended the first Test in Johannesburg as a fan having played what was intended to be his final game of Rugby when Saracens were crowned Aviva Premiership champions at Twickenham last month.
But with Springbok hookers Malcolm Marx and Bismarck du Plessis injured, the 37-year-old has agreed to join the squad in Bloemfontein and could be set to add to his 10 caps at Free State Stadium on Saturday.
“We’ll definitely consider him for the matchday 23 for the next two games. He’s not here just to be a ‘coach’,” said South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus, whose side won the opening Test 42-39.
“We are going to try some new things and we are going to encourage a new way of thinking. We want players to learn from guys like Schalk and his approach to the game.
“Schalk is in the same category as Bismarck in terms of experience. He knows a lot of English players well as he played against them regularly in the Premiership.
“We can only learn from him – specifically, at the scrums, line-outs and in terms of individual players.
“That made the decision to bring him back easier, but then you have to remember what a quality player he is.
“He won the Premiership with Saracens a couple of weeks ago, so he’s still on the ball.”
Brits is a popular figure in England where his dynamism and skill have lit up the Premiership, his lack of size for a modern hooker offset by his brilliance with the ball in hand.
His last Test appearance came three years ago, with his opportunities for the Springboks limited by the presence of John Smit and Du Plessis.
On Saturday he could come face to face with Saracens colleague Jamie George, the player he has helped mentor at Allianz Park, and Erasmus refuses to rule out his presence in the upcoming Rugby Championship campaign.
“After next week we will reassess. He played his last game a couple of weeks ago, so he’s still very fit. But we’ll see where he stands after the game in Cape Town,” added Erasmus.