Rugby Australia has reported an increase in participation in 2018, 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 in 2018, which is the first time the traditional format of the game has seen an increase in numbers since 2012.
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.
Sevens has also grown by 14 per cent across the country, with more than 65,000 participants taking to the field, proving the shortened format continues to rise 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.
“We’ve also really identified – and this is about making sure we’re listening to what Australians are saying and how they want to consume sport – we’re offering casual memberships and giving people the option to pay things off month-by-month.
“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,” he said.
“Where we might have lost people because of barriers, we’ve removed some of those barriers.”
657 schools signed up to Rugby AU’s introductory and competitive programs, with the Governing body and member unions delivering programs to more than 69,000 students – an 8.3% increase from 2017.
61 per cent of those programs were delivered to public schools and 46% of participants were female.
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.
According to Selby, 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.
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.”