Sheffield Tigers mirroring their men’s model to develop women’s rugby union as World Cup kicks-off

The year 2022 has certainly been one women’s sport in England. The Lionesses won the Euros, the women of Team England sparkled at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and now the Red Roses are red-hot favourites to win the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand this month.

However, this success at elite level for women’s sport is built on the strong foundations of grassroots projects up and down the country which help develop and nurture talent across all age grades.

In the build-up to the Women’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, which kicks off on October 8, the National Lottery is highlighting how its players have contributed more than £94.6m to support over 3,200 grassroots rugby union projects in the UK since 1994, including vital support to hundreds of projects that develop women and girl’s rugby - from grassroots to elite.

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Projects like Sheffield Tigers Rugby Club in Yorkshire are also among the thousands of projects throughout the UK working their magic at grassroots level to develop women and girls' rugby, thanks to the support of National Lottery funding.

Girls rugby at Sheffield Tigers.Girls rugby at Sheffield Tigers.
Girls rugby at Sheffield Tigers.

Tigers, who are into their 90th year and pride themselves on being the city’s most successful rugby union club, launched a women’s team for the first time two years ago.

The club now hopes to have an under-12s team established within a year, with the ambition that they will one day represent the ladies first team.

Sheffield Tigers received nearly £7,000 of National Lottery funding and their director of rugby, Jack Howieson, is thrilled with what they have achieved, with his ten-year-old daughter Alana among those hooked on the sport.

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“We had really good success with the women’s team we started up,” he said.

Girls rugby at Sheffield TigersGirls rugby at Sheffield Tigers
Girls rugby at Sheffield Tigers

“What we found is that obviously, there's nothing really feeding into that. So, every year you must go out and try and find new players from elsewhere.

“So, obviously what happens with our men’s team over the years, the minis, and juniors team feed through into the first team. So, we wanted to copy that sort of process.

“My daughter's 10 and does the weekly training sessions. If they've got role models on TV or even in real life that they can look up to, it's something that girls will push to do in the future.

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And Howieson believes further exposure for the women’s game and a successful World Cup for the Home Nations will only succeed in boosting numbers of women and girls playing at clubs like Sheffield Tigers.

“Women’s sport in general is getting a lot bigger and getting a lot more press on TV with women's football,” he explained.

“There is a lot more access these days for girls and women to play sports that were traditionally seen as men’s sport, which is great. I think there's been a big surge in the availability and popularity of women’s sport.”

Former England player and Rugby World Cup winner, Maggie Alphonsi MBE, met with National Lottery-supported Haringey Rhinos RFC in London this week, to see for herself how National Lottery funding is having a positive impact on female participation at the club

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Maggie herself has reaped the rewards of National Lottery funding throughout her career and knows only too well the positive impact this funding can have.

Highlighting the importance of funding to develop grassroots rugby union for women and girls, Alphonsi, 38, said: “It’s important to reflect on how National Lottery funding over the years has played a pivotal role in developing and nurturing talent for the future, and has helped progress the sport amongst thousands of women and girls throughout the UK – from grassroots to elite.

“This has no doubt helped the growth of the game amongst women and girls and has contributed substantially to the increased levels of professionalism we see today.”

“I’m eternally grateful for the opportunities the game of rugby has given me in life. Whether it’s the sense of community each of the teams and clubs I have played for have instilled in me, or the life skills, team ethic, responsibility, and leadership it has shown me, on and off the pitch – I owe a lot to the sport.

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“That’s why I’m delighted to highlight and support the impact the National Lottery funding has had on rugby clubs and projects throughout the UK.”

National Lottery players raise more than £30million a week for good causes including vital funding into sport – from grassroots to elite. Find out how your numbers make amazing happen at: