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The Six Nations are upon us. Where is UK rugby heading next?
Excitement is ramping up for the Six Nations. Excluding the Rugby World Cup, the Six Nations is one of the biggest dates in the rugby calendar, and fans watch on as the best sides in Europe battle it out for the championship.
As this year’s tournament stands, the British Isles has a lot to be proud of with Wales and England all having a shot at winning the championship, but only one will come out on top.
Before the big event gets underway, let’s take a look at just how much the Six Nations has evolved over since its conception.
The Six Nations story
Cast your mind back to 1883 - long before the days of colour TVs and international broadcasts. This was the birth of the tournament we see today, except back then it had less competing members. It was originally known as the Home Nations Championship and only included England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales.
It carried on like this until Europe erupted into war for the second time. Between 1939 and 1945, the tournament was postponed as the World War 2 raged on. When the matches resumed, the Home Nations became the Five Nations as France began to compete. They struggled at first but quickly found their stride and place among the home nations.
It was only until the turn of the new millennium that Italy joined the tournament and the Six Nations was born.
With all this excitement surrounding the Six Nations every year, are we seeing greater participation rates across the UK? According to certain data, participation in rugby has been steadily decreasing in 11 to 15-year-olds since 2012.
To make it more accessible, England Rugby has been laying out initiatives to increase participation. Part of this was creating a far-reaching touch rugby programme. Partnering with O2, they surpassed their initial target and now have 17,500 people playing the sport on a regular basis across England.
The traditional contact version has also seen recent rises in participation. England Rugby revealed that 190 new teams have been formed, junior ranks have risen by 30,000 players, and the number of women playing the game has rocketed by 30%.
Grassroots projects have also been popping up to attract people from Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities, areas of high deprivation, and those with disabilities to try rugby union and join their local club.
The project aimed to position rugby as a sport for anyone regardless of background, ability, or gender. It has successfully transformed perceptions all over the country. Since its inception, 14,000 new participants from all three target groups have got involved with rugby. A bright new era has begun for rugby lovers everywhere.
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