What is UNIon?
UNIon is a new leadership academy for 2023, led by the RFU in partnership with Neal Training, which focuses on women’s leadership in rugby. It’s designed for female student leaders involved with rugby from all over the country and includes team building challenges, interactive workshops and leadership development sessions for the group. The first session of 2023 was a trip to the Lake District in October where the group kitted up in helmets and wetsuits and faced a blindfolded waterfall climb, abseiling down a cliff face, and zip wiring over a river.
For 2023-24, the group is made up of 29 students from 17 different universities, all unified in the goal of improving rugby for women and girls ahead of the Women’s Rugby World Cup 2025. A number of activities are planned for the season similar to the Lake District, all looking to build leadership qualities through project work specific to the women and girls’ game. The group is supported by a network of ambassadors, learning and leading mentors and the wider RFU network. The programme is planned to run until 2026.
To see more, have a look at @englandrugbyunis on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Where does it fit into RWC25 Impact?
As part of their UNIon projects, the group can engage with anyone they choose, such as their university club, or a school or community club in their area. The RFU also has a wider pool of clubs who have benefitted from other strands of the RWC25 Impact project. For example, there are currently over 300 Girls U12 clubs who have received funding to kick-start their recruitment, which could be supported by a member of the UNIon group.
Likewise, they could work with a constituent body that is also supporting the U12 initiative and make an influence from this level. Alternatively, several retention and recruitment grants have been issued to institutions this season, in which an individual could choose to take responsibility for and run themselves to enhance women’s rugby. The possibilities are endless.
The Bigger Picture
For everyone involved in the women and girls’ game, this programme has potential to create a significant impact over the next three years and beyond. There is the opportunity to strengthen CB structures, including more women and the youth voice in positions of decision making than ever before, instilling confidence into the UNIon group to push the boundaries.
For universities, there could be significant increase to their participation numbers, change to club structures and increased playing opportunities for mass participation rugby.
At a club level, there is the possibility to inspire the next generation, creating inspiring and achievable role models in the girls’ game, whether this be through increased exposure to opportunity, positions of leadership within committees and boards, and the increased provision of coaching and referees.
The UNIon Women’s Leadership Academy will be instrumental in this area.
Sophie Biddulph, Player Pipeline Officer (Women and Girls) – RWC25
Huey Chadwick, BUCS Rugby Union Programme Coordinator