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'It's a huge statement': Gloucester announce increased funding to women's team

By Lucy Lomax
Gloucester-Hartpury's Bethan Lewis, Natasha Hunt and Cerys Hale after a Premier 15s match on December 11, 2021 in Exeter, England. (Photo by Bob Bradford - CameraSport via Getty Images)

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Gallagher Premiership side Gloucester Rugby has today announced its extended commitment to Gloucester-Hartpury Women’s RFC with a significant increase in funding to the women’s team from the 2022/23 season with captain Natasha Hunt arguing the investment shows the club’s clear ambitions for the seasons to come.

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Gloucester-Hartpury Women currently play in the Allianz Premier 15s having narrowly missed out on the play-offs this season, finishing sixth.

The Gloucester Rugby Board approved a proposal to increase the club’s central investment to the women’s team, matching the enhanced contribution from Hartpury University. Additional revenue will also be generated as a result of joint commercial rights to both the men and women’s teams with existing and new partners, including kit sponsorship. From the 2022/23 season both Gloucester men and Gloucester-Hartpury women will wear the same design of home strip.

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As the Premier 15s league becomes more established, growing in playing standards, broadcast audience, crowd attendances, and professionalism since its inception in 2017, more and more Premiership clubs have seen the value in investing in their women’s sections and more closely aligning the men’s and women’s sides with regards to sharing facilities, hosting double headers and combining marketing efforts.

Currently the only club in the Premier 15s not to be linked directly to a Premiership side is Darlington Mowden Park Durham Sharks, who finished bottom of the table without a win all season.

Gloucester-Hartpury Women’s RFC will continue to train and play at the Hartpury campus, with Gloucester Rugby continuing to host a number of Allianz Premier 15s fixtures at Kingsholm next season.

Hartpury College and University has proved an attractive and productive pathway for young female players in recent years with a host of players going on to represent their countries internationally including the likes of 2014 Rugby World Cup winners Alex Matthews, Hunt, and Ceri Large as well as current England players Zoe Harrison, Emma Sing, and Connie Powell coming through the Hartpury pathway programme.

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Hunt who is captain of the Premier 15s side and Senior Women’s Rugby Academy Manager at Hartpury University spoke exclusively to RugbyPass:

“It’s a huge statement, we’re excited to be supported by Gloucester, they’ve been brilliant with us over the season and you can feel the interest growing and the fact that they want us to become one club is huge for the women’s game. There are teams that are doing it very well already in the Premier 15s and for Gloucester to be trying to match that is incredible for us.

“Women’s rugby is in its own right an amazing sport and it can stand alone and do very well but to have the backing of the men’s team both Gloucester and Hartpury, both really established clubs, we’re doubly privileged to have the backing of both of them.

“And it’s not just financial support for example, George Skivington (Gloucester Head Coach) is very interested and will be aware of our results from the weekend and keeps a close eye on the league. He also pops into our team meetings or lineout meetings where he’ll ask questions, so to have someone at the top leading in that way is really important. Lewis Ludlow will also message us and check in regularly, so there really is a one club feel across the board which is so nice to be a part of.”

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Hunt explains how Gloucester-Hartpury has also provided her with career opportunities away from the pitch which has in turn helped her get back to playing her best rugby.

“I’ve been coaching the women’s BUCS programme at Hartpury along with Bethan Lewis (Wales international). I started the role after I left my England contract around a year ago. It became available when Liza Burgess moved on and went to coach at Worcester and I think that speaks volumes of the club being invested in what we want to do after rugby and them helping us both on and off the pitch.”

“Having the opportunity to get back in the mix and play for England again over the course of this year’s Six Nations, I’m not taking it for granted.

“One thing I’ve leant in my career is when I’m playing with  a smile on my face it makes me a better player and I can’t speak highly enough of the guys at Gloucester-Hartpury for that because they’ve encouraged that out of me and I think I’m playing some of my best rugby at the minute, so full credit to them for getting me where I am.”

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