Women’s rugby is in safe hands in the West Country after Bristol Rugby wowed the judges to scoop up the Play Award at the All Party Parliamentary Rugby Union Group Premiership Rugby Community Awards earlier tonight.
The Play Award, which is in association with the All Party Parliamentary Rugby Union Group, is designed to reward a programme or one-off piece of activity that encourages participation, improvement or excellence in the game of rugby union.
This year there were a number of nominations, showcasing a wide range of programmes from 7s to the more traditional game, but Bristol emerged top of the pile.
The club’s ‘Eagle Project’ has helped boost development in girls’ rugby by delivering a programme aimed specifically at Year 8, 9 and 10 girls in schools over the academic year.
And such has been the success of the project, 10 per cent of girls involved are now playing recreational rugby at clubs outside of school.
Indeed women’s rugby has never been in better health after England lifted the Women’s Rugby World Cup last year.
And one of the judges, Sport England NGB account manager Heather Taylor, was blown away by Bristol’s commitment to the cause.
“Bristol’s project very much identified a local need and developed a programme tailored to what the girls wanted,” she said.
“As a target group it’s traditionally a difficult one to engage with, but through working with schools Bristol have managed to do it.
“They have had the chance to work with a coach from outside their school and progressed at their own pace, from tackle bags to tag and touch rugby. Bristol also made a lot of effort to address any concerns from parents of all different backgrounds and cultures who may not have known as much about the sport.
“I’m always interested in the sustainability too and they’ve really hit the nail on the head – ten per cent of girls involved in the project are now playing at rugby clubs outside school, which is phenomenal.
“The guys at Bristol haven’t been funded so they’ve been taking it upon themselves to raise the money locally through activities such as charity bike rides, and it’s a real credit to the club.”
Northampton Saints were the other nominees on the night thanks to their Elite Insurance 7s Series, which has helped to promote the shorter code among schools and clubs across the east of England.
“Northampton were also hugely impressive, building on interest in 7s rugby and engaging with schools who do not have enough numbers to put out a full 15,” Taylor added.
“It’s created an outlet for schools to get into competitive rugby, and the project has really excelled.
“The benefit of these types of projects will only increase as we head to September and the Rugby World Cup, and Premiership Rugby are doing a lot to safeguard rugby clubs within local communities.”