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Royal London pledge £3 million to unions ahead of first women’s Lions tour

The Launch of The British & Irish Lions Women, London, England 16/1/2024 Former players Shaunagh Brown, Megan Gaffney, Lions Chairperson Ieuan Evans, Lions CEO Ben Calveley, Elinor Snowsill and Niamh Briggs at the launch of The British & Irish Lions Women Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Royal London, the founding partner of the British and Irish Lions Women’s team, have committed £3 million in funding to women’s rugby in Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and England.

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The purpose of the funding is to provide support for the development of elite women’s coaching and player pathways across the four unions ahead of the first women’s tour.

Following a feasibility study, it was announced in January 2024 that the inaugural British and Irish Lions Women’s team would tour New Zealand to face current World Champions the Black Ferns in 2027, in addition to pre-Test fixtures.

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The ‘Levelling the Playing Field’ grant will see money spread across player and coach pathways in each of the unions, with all four revealing funding plans relating to their specific needs.

The IRFU have allocated some of their funding to their age group pathways, pledging to use their portion of the grant to host more women’s u18 and u20 training matches and camps. In addition, they plan to develop a ‘Coach Accelerator Scholarship Program’, which will provide high-performance mentors and put a focus on the removal of career barriers relating to gender in order to support long-term career progression and coaching capability. They will also work with universities to scope out talent.

Scottish Rugby will use their share to employ two ‘Performance Pipeline’ coaches, and similarly to Ireland, will increase their women’s U18 and U20 camps and training matches. As well as this, they will host residential camps for their national academy.

Five new coaching staff for the women’s pathway will be employed by the WRU; a performance pathway coach, a physical development lead, a performance pathway scientist, a set-piece coach and a specialist skills coach. Investment will also be made into talent identification and transfer programmes across Wales, as well as working on engaging Welsh-qualified talent further afield.

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The RFU have chosen to invest their funding into ‘Player Development Groups’, which will contribute to improving the player experience and targeted development of skills.

Susie Logan, Group Chief Marketing Officer at Royal London, said: “Our aim as the Founding Partner of the Women’s Lions Team is to play an integral part in levelling the playing field for women’s rugby. The ‘Levelling the Playing Field’ grants we are announcing today further demonstrate our commitment to breaking down barriers and ensuring we’re able to support the development of women’s rugby at all levels.

“It’s been incredibly important to us that all Unions are actively involved and empowered to develop their own plans, ensuring optimal use of the funding across each nation. We’re looking forward to continuing our work in partnership with the Unions to ensure it makes a difference for the current and future generations.”

Ben Calveley, CEO, British & Irish Lions said: “Supporting the growth of the women’s game is a key strategic priority for The British & Irish Lions as it is for each of our constituent Unions. Royal London’s ‘Levelling the Playing Field’ grant represents a significant investment into the women’s game in the four Unions and will make a positive impact on women’s rugby.

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“Royal London are an outstanding partner to The British & Irish Lions and a consistent advocate both for the Lions Women’s Tour and for the women’s game. We look forward to working closely with them over the coming years as we build towards this historic Tour in 2027.”

A bespoke shirt has been commissioned by Royal London to signify what the investment means for women’s rugby, designed by artist and calligrapher Matthias Hamzaoui. The shirt includes quotes from players and staff from the four unions.

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