XVs numbers on track to buck six-year decline

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Australia's XVs participation has grown for the first time in six years, despite a roller coaster year for the Wallabies at the top of the sport.

XVs rugby, especially men’s XVs, has bucked recent declines to reach 82,000 players this year, topping the 2017 tally without the inclusion of summer competitions set to kick off in January.

The traditional format of the game hasn’t seen an increase in numbers since 2012, though women’s XVs has had big jumps in more recent times.

Queensland (10 per cent), the ACT (7 per cent) and South Australia (2 per cent) have led the way with growth in the XVs space this year.

Schools participation is also up, with 657 schools signing up to Rugby AU’s introductory and competitive programs - and 61 per cent of those being public schools.

Sevens has also grown by 14 per cent across the country, as the shortened format continues to increase in popularity.

Rugby Australia’s general manager of community rugby James Selby said the offering of flexible payment plans and casual memberships was helping bring people back to XVs.

“We’re really trying to make sure we provide a really simple, easy process for people to register and get involved,” Selby said.

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“If you can't commit to a 20-something week season because you've got a job that makes you travel, if you're FIFO, all those kind of things, having flexible membership options means people can stay involved, but they don't have to sign up for a full season.

"I think that's really helped. Where we might have lost people because of barriers, we've removed some of those barriers."

South Australia is one state that has seen a jump in players this year, despite AFL dominating the region and a lack of regular professional rugby.

Adelaide hosted a leg of the Uni 7s for the first time this year and the appetite for rugby is growing, irrespective of the turbulence at top-end of the game.

Rugby Australia’s Get Into Rugby program has been credited for much of the growth in schools participation and Selby said the plan was to take the five-week skills course into clubs, to allow kids and adults to acquaint themselves with the game no matter their background.

Almost 40 clubs are set to run the program in rugby pre-season next year, with close to 100 clubs expected to run the program in September, ahead of the World Cup, to help bring more faces into rugby.

“If you're someone who's middle-aged or new to Australia or hasn't come from a country where you've been familiarised with a league, union, touch football type of experience, it’s a five-week program that means you're going to actually feel like you can then go and have the confidence play one of the three formats we have - XVs, sevens or touch 7s,” Selby said.

Anecdotally, top level club rugby hasn't lost its allure in recent years but it's the work being done at all levels of club footy which appears to be bringing more people into the sport, according to Selby.

While he said many local rugby stories were now being shared, the work of club volunteers across the country could create many, many more.

"I'd love community side of the game to celebrate its wins more and it really is the people down in club-land who are really doing the hard work and understanding and engaging with their community and providing really positive experiences," he said.

"I think what rugby does really well is is a great opportunity for people to play sport, but it's more than that."