The British & Irish Lions Women’s Team founding partner, Royal London has announced a £3m ‘Levelling the Playing Field’ Pathways Funding grant.

Royal London has distributed these grants to bolster the elite women’s player and coach pathways across all four Unions (England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland), with each Union devising  a customised funding strategy tailored to its specific requirements.

Ben Calveley, CEO of British & Irish Lions, commented: “Supporting the growth of the women’s game is a key strategic priority for The British & Irish Lions as it is for each of our constituent Unions. 

“Royal London’s ‘Levelling the Playing Field’ grant represents a significant investment into the women’s game in the four Unions and will make a positive impact on women’s rugby.

The funding’s objective is to support the development of more players and coaches in preparation for the inaugural Howden Lions Women’s Tour to New Zealand in 2027, while further solidifying Royal London’s partnership with the Lions Women’s Team.

Calveley added: “Royal London are an outstanding partner to The British & Irish Lions and a consistent advocate both for the Lions Women’s Tour and for the women’s game. We look forward to working closely with them over the coming years as we build towards this historic Tour in 2027.”

The Rugby Football Union (RFU), England’s national governing body for rugby union, will use the grant to enhance its ‘Player Development Groups’, aiming to enhance the overall player experience journey and improve the targeted skill development of players progressing through the pathway.

Scottish Rugby (SR) plans to employ two Performance Pipeline coaches and expand its U18 and U20 camps and training matches to accelerate team development. Additionally, SR will organise residential camps for a national academy, bringing together Scotland’s top pipeline players for intensive training sessions.

The Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) is set to bolster its women’s pathway coaching staff with the addition of five new members: a Performance Pathway Coach, Physical Development Lead, Performance Pathway Scientist, Set-piece Coach, and a specialist Skills Coach.

Furthermore, the WRU plans to invest in talent identification programs and transfer initiatives nationwide while  also aiming to engage Welsh qualified talent located outside of Wales.

Like SR, the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) has decided to allocate the funds towards hosting additional women’s U18 and U20 camps and training matches to improve player development.

Additionally, the IRFU will establish a ‘Coach Accelerator Scholarship Program’ aimed at enhancing coach capability and creating long-term career progression, with a particular focus on dismantling gender-related career barriers.The union has said that coaches participating in the program will receive support from high-performance mentors. 

Lastly, the IRFU plans to collaborate with universities to identify promising talent and unearth potential high-performance players.

Susie Logan, Group Chief Marketing Officer at Royal London, said: “Our aim as the Founding Partner of the Women’s Lions Team is to play an integral part in levelling the playing field for women’s rugby.

“The ‘Levelling the Playing Field’ grants we are announcing today further demonstrate our commitment to breaking down barriers and ensuring we’re able to support the development of women’s rugby at all levels.”

To celebrate the grant Royal London has commissioned a bespoke shirt to showcase what this investment will mean for women in rugby. Artist Matthias Hamzaoui has designed the shirt, which features grayscale portraits and quotes from players, coaches and staff on the impact of the £3m bursary.

The inaugural Lions Women’s Tour is scheduled for September 2027 in New Zealand. The series will feature three Tests against the Black Ferns, the reigning world champions, along with pre-Test fixtures.

Logan concluded: “It’s been incredibly important to us that all Unions are actively involved and empowered to develop their own plans ensuring optimal use of the funding across each nation. We’re looking forward to continuing our work in partnership with the Unions to ensure it makes a difference for this and future generations.”

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