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Friday 23 February, 2018
RFU Plans To Invest £443m Into Rugby To Make It England’s Dominant Sport And Put Football In The Shade

RFU Plans To Invest £443m Into Rugby To Make It England’s Dominant Sport And Put Football In The Shade

The Rugby Football Union has made the bold declaration that it wants to be “the strongest sport in England”, and that the country should be “the world’s leading rugby nation” by setting out plans to invest a record £443  million into the game, an increase of 30 per cent on its last four-year Strategic Plan.

The governing body also stated its target of winning the men’s World Cup in Japan in 2019 and the women’s World Cup two years later. In addition, there are clear goals to win more Six Nations titles as well as medals in the men’s and women’s sevens at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. There are initiatives in place to increase the number of RFU-owned artificial pitches around the country from the current six to 60 by the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

The assertion that rugby union could one day lay claim to being “the strongest” sport in the country could not have come at a more apposite time given the mess that the Football Association finds itself in. The RFU may never be able to match the participation levels of football but it makes no secret of its desire to “lead the way”, in the manner in which it conducts its business. On a specific level it has revisited all its internal processes and procedures in the light of the revelations of racism that led to the Football Association being arraigned in front of a Parliamentary select committee last week.

“The aim is not to be the biggest sport in England but the strongest in the way we go about our business,” Stephen Brown, the RFU chief executive, said. “On the field, the aim is to win Six Nations titles. We are not planning to come second. We want to deliver the game of our lives.

“There is a substantial increase in investment to match what we see as our substantial commitment to being the best on and off the field. You don’t have to be big to be strong. It is about setting standards. This has been a step-change for us and perhaps [would be] for other organisations. We have looked at everything again internally and it is critical for the good governance of a sport that we keep checking and challenging ourselves to meet high standards by being open and transparent. Any sport is at risk [of issues such as arose in football] but we are working as on organisation to be in a place where that would not be allowed to happen.”
There is little doubt, too, that the union recognises the importance of success at international level, the ripple-down effect that winning World Cups and championships can have, as was shown in the country’s reaction to the 2003 triumph in Australia. To that end, the breakdown of the injection of almost half a billion pounds (£443 million) up to 2021 divides into £253 million designated for the professional game and £190 million assigned to all other areas such as artificial pitches, facilities and infrastructure. The women’s game has seen more than £1 million of investment since the World Cup in Ireland in August with 17 designated players on sevens contracts in the build-up to the Commonwealth and Olympic Games with 35 more match-fee contracts to be issued in the coming weeks for the 15-a-side game. 

RFU's £443m bid to rule the world | Key details

  1. The RFU states its aim to win the 2019 Rugby World Cup and reach world no.1 ranking.
  2. Goal also to win the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2021 as well as medals for men and women in Sevens at Tokyo 2020.
  3. Ambition to add to the back-to-back Six Nations titles: ‘We are not planning to come second.’
  4. £443million investment over next 4-5 years, a 30% increase, with £253million assigned to pro game.
  5. 60 RFU-owned artificial pitches to be in place by RWC 2019, an increase from six at present.
  6. 17 Seven-a-side contracts for Women’s squad with 35 match-fee Elite Player Squad contracts for 15-a-side game to come to add to the recent £1million investment.
  7. £50million investment in community game this year with 8% increase in number of new teams playing.

The union has taken findings from a specially commissioned survey that reached 26,000 people to help shape its view of the game across the spectrum.

The blue-riband target, though, remains the 2019 Rugby World Cup with Eddie Jones “leading the charge towards it”, in the words of the RFU’s director of professional rugby, Nigel Melville. There are many tiers to the RFU Strategic Plan but the apex remains the planned-for success of the national team. On that rests so much, as Jones has already shown with a Grand Slam and Six Nations title to his name to fuel the feel-good vibe at Twickenham. “Eddie has a very clear purpose and that fits with ours,” said Brown, who has begun the succession planning for Jones’s intended retirement after the 2019 World Cup. “We are on the same page. We want to win the Rugby World Cup and reach world No 1. It would be odd for the union not to be ambitious. You are either ambitious or you are not. Our two views [Jones and the RFU] are complementary and appropriate. We are building that recipe and need to have Plans A, B and C ready. Eddie wants to leave a legacy, a system that the next head coach can pick up. We are in a good place [as regards succession plans], probably better than in the past.”

The union has backed England captain, Dylan Hartley, who faces yet another disciplinary charge arising from last weekend’s Champions Cup game against Clermont Auvergne. Brown acknowledged, though, that the union did have a responsibility to ensure that the image of the game is upheld. “Dylan has been a superb captain for England,” said Brown, who declined to pass comment on this most recent incident. “Players [do] have a responsibility as role models.” Hartley and fellow England player, Nathan Hughes and Joe Marler appear before a hearing tonight. 


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