Both RFU data and Sport England’s Active People Survey suggest that the transition from age 14 to 19 into adult rugby creates significant challenges, both because transition into the adult game is complex and because of broader societal factors regarding how today’s young people spend their leisure time.

The RFU’s recent Age Grade and Adult Competition Reviews highlighted the need to focus on transition to adult rugby and the need for a clearer and coordinated programme in the 16-19+ age groups to help reduce the drop-off.

Male 17-year-old rugby players can currently play 15-a-side rugby in four different age groups: Under 17, Under 18 (with U18s), Under 19 (with U17s and 18s) and adult rugby (all ages above U16). While offering choice this provides no clear pathway into the adult game.

Said Commission Chair and RFU Council member for Yorkshire, Ted Atkinson: “Keeping more players in the game as they move from age grade to adult rugby is essential to ensure the future health of our sport. To understand and respond positively to the issues involved, the RFU established the Commission to explore the landscape and identify the key areas for appropriate action, which I very much hope that the game will embrace.”

Said Rugby Development Director Steve Grainger: “We are very grateful to the members of the Commission, who brought vast expertise and knowledge to bear and gave up their time to contribute to this important piece of work.”

Having considered research, data, opinion, trends and views, the Commission recommended that the following areas are looked at in more detail. This is being progressed through a series of working groups and will be overseen by the Community Game Board.

• The half game rule, successfully pioneered in New Zealand and now implemented in Wales, to be introduced for all rugby up to and including U19 from the 2018/19 season to guarantee players in a match day squad at least half a game of rugby.

• The Commission believes that there is significant merit in delaying the ability to play adult rugby until the date of a player’s 18th birthday and recommends that a task group considers this further.

• Over playing, both in the overall amount of rugby and in intensity, is a concern affecting a growing number of young players. The Commission has noted that is particularly prevalent in U15 and U16 players and recommends that further work be undertaken to define playing and rest times for age grade players, up to and including, U19.

• The importance of a varied playing offer across the U14-U19 age groups should not be under-estimated. Further work is necessary to ensure that all rugby providers are supported in ensuring more choice for players – in formats and in when rugby is scheduled. This should include 15s, 7s, XRugby and touch rugby.

• Improving the tracking of players from U14 through to adult rugby will help to identify players at risk of over playing and those dropping out so that this can be monitored more effectively. The Commission
recommends that Electronic Match Cards be mandatory for all age grade club rugby from season 2019/20 and that further work should explore the expansion of the existing club age grade player registration system into educational establishments.

• With drop out of players significant in this age group, the Commission recommends that the current work being undertaken by the RFU on player tracking is given the highest priority, and is adopted with urgency, so that players are monitored passing through the latter stages of age grade rugby into the adult game.

• With brand affiliation increasingly important for young people, the Commission recommends the development of two clear brand campaigns, one looking more closely at what U17/U18/U19 rugby is called and how it is promoted to aid retention, and one looking at how to attract more U14 –U19s into rugby. The latter should be modelled closely on recent successful RFU campaigns, such as Inner Warrior.

• With young people having increased choice about where they spend their time and spending increasing time on mobile devices, access to Wi-Fi is important. The Commission recommends that greater support be provided to all rugby clubs to improve Wi-Fi access/connectivity, with the
target of all clubs being fully Wi-Fi accessible by September, 2019. Consideration should also be given to rolling out social media training for club officials, where required.

• A young player’s interaction with adults in the game is critical in keeping them involved – a positive experience can retain, a negative one put them off for life. The Commission recommends that a task group further considers how to encourage and support more coaches and match officials, including parent-coaches, in better understanding modern day young players’ needs and the importance of their role in transitioning players to adult rugby. It further recommends that work is undertaken to provide examples of how clubs can focus on player transition as a measure of success and how they can
create and establish a player transition mind set across all club members.

• To further support the delivery of the RFU’s existing male 15-a-side strategy, the Commission recommends further work to consider what measures would incentivise clubs to run teams up to and including U19 and to ultimately position the U18/U19s as their most important team.

To read the full Commission Report click here