Rugby’s time to shine – a thank you to the Rugby community

by Raelene Castle

Dear Rugby Community,

With most of the winter Rugby competitions concluding across the country over recent weeks, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you all for your contribution to Rugby in 2019.

With the Rugby World Cup kicking off in Japan this weekend, it is a time for all people involved at all levels of the sport to be proud of their contribution and to celebrate everything that is great about our game while it is under the global spotlight.

The Wallabies have completed their preparation for their opening match against Fiji in Sapporo on Saturday and will be buoyed by the support of over 40,000 Aussies that have travelled to Japan to take in the action, as well as millions more who will tune in on Fox Sports or Network Ten back home.

While our game has endured some challenging headlines and unwanted distractions in 2019, it has been encouraging to see Rugby continue to thrive at the community level thanks to the dedication and passion of our club volunteers.

Our sincere gratitude goes to each and every member of our Rugby community from administrators, match officials, coaches and volunteers through to the players that make up each of Australia’s 900-plus Rugby clubs.

I wanted to take this opportunity to provide you with an update on some of the key developments in the game as the 2019 season comes to end on home soil.

This year Rugby Australia launched a ‘Get into Rugby’ program for community clubs, modelled off our schools program of the same name, and we have so far seen over 30 clubs sign up for the program and welcome scores of new members into their clubs this year.

Get into Rugby is an introductory five-week program for people of all ages that teaches the Rugby basics and helps them move into our three distinct formats: Touch 7s, Sevens and the traditional XVs format. If your club is interested in getting involved, please get in touch with your local State or Territory Rugby body. The success of this program is bolstering participation numbers and we are on track to report continued growth in participation across all three formats of the game nationally at the end of the calendar year.

Now that our winter competitions have wrapped up, we have a record number of spring-summer Sevens tournaments being played at clubs across the country, including 41 new competitions getting under way this month alone.

On the coaching front, we have had a major focus on building our coaching capacity at the community level to keep pace with our gains in playing participation numbers. Through the Rugby Xplorer app not only can you register to play or administer your club or competition, but you will soon be able to access over 200 coaching videos ranging from basic drills through to planning an entire session, all free for use by any member of our community. These videos are already available online at Australia.Rugby .

We have also continued to enhance our safety framework and have seen encouraging results from the mandatory ‘size for age’ grading in junior Rugby, as well as trialling new initiatives such as the ‘front row passport’ which was piloted in Queensland earlier this year with a view towards a further rollout in 2020.

We also recognise the crucial role that match officials play in our game and our investment in coaching development for match officials now extends all the way from the junior level through to the professional ranks. Rugby Australia is especially proud of the two referees, Angus Gardner and Nic Berry, whom were selected to officiate at the Rugby World Cup in Japan this month, giving us our best representation since 2003.

At the professional level it was a mixed bag during The Rugby Championship for the Wallabies, but it did include a record victory over New Zealand in front of a venue record crowd at Optus Stadium, where our Wallaroos shared the stage with the Bledisloe Cup clash for a second straight year on a memorable night.

Speaking of the Wallaroos, plans are well advanced to double their Test match program for 2020 after our women played a record number of matches this year.

Our Men’s and Women’s Sevens teams will soon begin their 2019/20 World Series campaigns in an important year in the lead up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, where once again the Sevens format will be held up in lights.

A strong focus has been on securing our best up and coming talent and following a comprehensive review of the development pathways our junior representative programs have been revamped, yielding immediate success. Our Junior Wallabies dominated New Zealand to win the Oceania Championship and then came within a point of claiming the World Cup.

The positive sign for the future is that over 90% of our Junior Wallabies squad has been locked in long-term with Australian Rugby and many are now making their mark in Super Rugby and the National Rugby Championship.

This is just some of the news I wanted to highlight on the eve of what promises to be an incredible Rugby World Cup in Japan.

I hope you can take some time out with your families to enjoy the spectacle of the World Cup and get loud and proud in support of the Wallabies wherever you are watching them.

Thank you again for everything you do to advance the great game of Rugby and we look forward to working alongside you again next season.