The Rugby Football Union (RFU) says it is committed to providing young female players with the same opportunities and experiences as their male counterparts.
Earlier this month, the RFU launched the new England Rugby Girls’ Developing Player Programme (ERDPP) to help identify talent at U16 level and provide those girls with access to increased pathway training and playing opportunities.
Based on the boys’ ERDPP, which was already in existence, the RFU sought expert advice on how best to adapt the programme for girls.
It is hoped that the girls’ ERDPP can help support the ‘Every Rose’ action plan and ensure there is a healthy pathway for players to progress from age-grade to international rugby.
According to Don Barrell, the RFU’s Head of Performance Pathways and Programmes who has worked on the project with Martin MacTaggart, Player Pathway Manager, it is equally important that there is a “parity of experience” for young female players.
“The experience should be the same… for every young girl and young boy,” Barrell told World Rugby.
“Both girls and boys deserve the same quality of experience, deserve the same opportunity for access, deserve the same energy.
“I think where it does differ is [that] we will continually ask and evolve. What do we think this group needs at this stage? Then we will best support that with resources.”
The programme will be run at a local level by the RFU’s Constituent Bodies, all of whom have pledged their support to it, with the best participants graduating onto Centre of Excellence training. Other players will go on to county U18 programmes.
“What we're trying to do is offer a really broad base that doesn't have such a hard ‘you’re in or you’re out’,” Barrell said.
“If someone feels that a player has some long-term potential, and that could sit across a plethora of things, then what we're advising is you bring them into the programme, develop them and see how you go.”
Alongside the obvious benefits for players involved, the main beneficiary of an improved pathway for talented women and girls will be England, who are currently top of the World Rugby Women’s Rankings powered by Capgemini heading towards Rugby World Cup 2021.
However, Barrell and the RFU are confident that should the girls’ ERDPP prove successful then the benefits will be felt by clubs in the English Premier 15s and the community game.
“The primary piece of this programme is it has to add value,” Barrell said. “It has to add value to the girls [participating] and we can't define making it as someone who wears a Red Roses shirt.
“Making it means you stay in love with the game. You play and you go back to your club, you become a referee, you become a coach, as you get older, you stay as an administrator. That's a driver of success.
“We know top-end players will always come through. I think this programme is about, if you look at our development framework, the explore phase and that calls out that the key competency is just [that it] fosters a love for the game.”
Promoting female coaches
Another knock-on impact of the girls’ ERDPP is an increase in opportunities for coaches at the county level who will put on the training sessions.
The RFU has entered into a partnership with UK Coaching to provide coaches working in the pathway with access to an online support platform.
And, Barrell confirmed there will be a focus on helping identify female coaches who want to get involved with the programme.
“This is absolutely a great opportunity for women who are involved in coaching and want to progress [and take] that first step into community rugby,” he said.
“We are putting a lot of support around the coaches who are going to go into it. There's a new platform launch with UK Coaching, so that's on board.
“We've got a lot of resources available and we are hugely supportive of women who want to coach to get involved in the programmes.”