Touch rugby aims to break down barriers with 2025 World Cup in England | Rugby Union News


England will be hosting the touch World Cup in 2024 on the back of hosting the European Championship last year

The ‘sold out’ signs were up at Kingston Park on Saturday as 10,053 spectators turned up to watch England beat Scotland 58-7 in their TikTok Women’s Six Nations opener – another sign of how interest in the women’s game has grown in recent years.

Hope are high of eclipsing the world attendance record for a women’s Test match when the reigning champions host France at Twickenham next month too, with over 40,000 tickets already sold, while the RFU aim to have 10,000 girls and women playing rugby union by the time the 2025 women’s Rugby World takes place in England.

Before then though, the 2024 Touch World Cup will take place in Nottingham next July, which will see the world’s top female touch rugby players competing on the same stage as their male counterparts either in their own tournament or as part of mixed sex teams.

Rugby’s non-contact variant has shown double-digit increases in participation in recent years, and England Touch Association national development manager and international player Sammie Phillips believes it can be key to helping break down barriers which still exist for females wanting to play the sport.

“There are still lots of barriers to females playing rugby,” Phillips, who played for Saracens and England Students before taking up touch after suffering an injury, told Sky Sports. “You might find some parents happy for their son to play and not their daughter, and it’s still a very real thing about what traditionally are sports for girls and boys.

“Something like touch starts to break down the stereotype; you see a girl with a rugby ball in her hands running around playing with other girls or boys, and it starts to break down the stereotypes and empowers the girls to acquire the skills some of their male counterparts have.

“It’s a real opportunity there for the sports to help each other out in terms of their growth. Also, for females, we’re the ones who have children so there is a time in our lives we fall pregnant and can’t play contact sport, so playing non-contact sport during that time and maybe after when returning to play mean there are options for touch rugby.

Sarah Hunter feels there is more to come in professional women's rugby and suggests further investment will push the game forward.

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Sarah Hunter feels there is more to come in professional women’s rugby and suggests further investment will push the game forward.

Sarah Hunter feels there is more to come in professional women’s rugby and suggests further investment will push the game forward.

“Then for people as they get older or when they’re very young before they can play contact rugby, there is an opportunity there to play touch. It’s a wraparound mass participation version of the game.”

Next year will mark the first time the Touch World Cup has been held in England, with Scotland having hosted the 2011 edition, and follows the European Championships being held on these shores in 2018 and last year.

The youth Atlantic Cup, featuring up to 50 teams across the U15, U18 and U20 age groups from Europe, Africa, the Americas and parts of Asia, in Nottingham this year serves as a precursor too, with the national governing body aiming to drive participation in schools as well as organised leagues.

ETA chief executive Chris Simon, who sits on the board of RFU Championship club Nottingham as well, sees touch as a gateway for people to get involved in either code of contact rugby along with the World Cup offering the non-contact version a chance to showcase how open it is to all.

“Rugby is at a real crossroads at the moment as to where it goes as a broader sport, and I think touch can provide a participation opportunity for the sport that helps increase the awareness of contact rugby, be that league or union,” Simon told Sky Sports.

“I’m passionate about contact rugby, but what we don’t want to do is lose those who don’t want to play. While touch might be the only choice for some, it will be one of two or three choices for others, and they may move between union, league and touch as their life progresses.

“For me, what better way to keep them in that sport from when they start running around to their later years?”

Universities have proven to be a growth area for touch too, with this year’s BUCS Championship being the largest to take place so far and involving several England open team players helping to raise standards and drive best practise.

Touch features mixed-sex teams as well as separate teams for male and female players

Touch features mixed-sex teams as well as separate teams for male and female players

England men’s captain Dom Tripp experienced that himself during his university days and the former Harlequins academy player hailed the inclusivity of touch.

“I’m sure there are lots of other sports which have this, but because there is men’s, women’s and mixed, it’s very equitable in terms of the opportunity,” Tripp told Sky Sports.

“Plus, with the age grades going up and down, it doesn’t matter what age you are, anyone can get involved and play. I know people who’ve played with parents and grandchildren, and being non-contact it’s great anyone can throw a ball around and enjoy it.

“The progression of England and the other Home Nations over the last few years have been really positive. That’s only going to be helped by hosting a tournament like this and hopefully inspiring a few more people who want to give it a go and have the skills.”

England open women celebrate their triumph at last year's European Touch Championships

England open women celebrate their triumph at last year’s European Touch Championships

England head into next year’s World Cup having won the gold medal in both the men’s and women’s open tournaments, along with several of the age category events, and aiming to compete with Australia and New Zealand teams which have dominated the international game.

Phillips has seen first-hand the progress the England teams have made since her first international tournament in 2005 and knows medal success can help inspire the next generation to get involved.

“We want to encourage players of all ages, genders, and abilities to get involved in playing touch, and then there are performance pathways which can lead to regional and international representation,” Phillips said.


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