Challenging convention

Following our sponsorship of the British & Irish Lions men’s tour in 2021, we asked the question ‘why isn’t there a women’s tour?’. So, we continued collaborating with the Lions and funded a feasibility study to investigate if it was possible.

We’re delighted that the study concluded with positive findings.

The Changing Room

Episode 1: A positive step for women's rugby

We partnered with the Lions to make a positive impact on women’s rugby. In the first episode of The Changing Room, Jenny Drummond speaks to former England International and member of the Feasibility Study Steering Group Shaunagh Brown, Chair of the Feasibility Study Steering Group and Chairman of The British & Irish Lions, Ieuan Evans and Head of Brand at Royal London, Julie-Ann Hall. They talk about what the feasibility study means for the future of women's rugby.

Shaunagh Brown: There's not really anything going on in women's rugby around the Lions. Let's make it happen. It's not only about the current crop of players, it's about the aspiring players. 

Jenny Drummond: Royal London, and the Lions are bringing you the conversations that really matter. And today, we'll be discussing the Women's Lions Feasibility Study. I'll be joined by former England International, Shaunagh Brown, former Lion and current Chairman of the Lions, Ieuan Evans and Head of Brand and Impact at Royal London, Julie-Ann Hall. 

Jenny Drummond: Just how exciting in the whole context of women's rugby is the possibility of a Women's Lions tour?

Shaunagh Brown: Short answer is exciting. Even for me, now, as an ex player, I'm still excited by the thought of a Women's Lions tour. It's the ultimate in representation for me in rugby. So for a lot of sports, but particularly amateur sports, once you have an Olympic Games, you have a Commonwealth Games, but for rugby fifteens, you don't have that option. And the fact it's every four years and it's similar to an Olympic cycle every four years. And, yes, it is an incredible experience going to a World Cup representing for me, England. But if there's like another level and especially as an elite athlete you always want more, no matter what you do, no matter how well you do, and that's not just in sport. That's in business.

Ieuan Evans: It's addictive isn't it? It is addictive.

Shaunagh Brown: You get, you get to the top of your game and you think, well, what next? And if there's nothing that you want to create something there. It's not only about the current crop of players, it's about the aspiring players and part of the reason why we're here at Tunbridge Wells is to also recognise the grassroots level of players. And if you give them carrot of, yes, you're playing here and now, but this is going to be the foundation for your career. And as you get older and the more you learn, and the more you put in, the more you can take from rugby. One day you could play for The British & Irish Lions too. 

Jenny Drummond: Ieuan, the possibility of a Women's Lions tour is simply incredibly exciting. Can you talk us through the work that's been done over the past year, and what part of the stage we're at now?

Ieuan Evans: Well it was a pretty long and robust process, but what was important, what drove this, we needed expertise and experience around the table. Broadcasters, unions, administrators and World Rugby as well, all engaged in this process. And everyone had their moment, several moments, in which to engage, to contribute, to challenge, to scrutinise. And that in essence is what the steering group was about. It's about bringing the right people into the room to discuss this. You know, what is a really exciting prospect.

Shaunagh Brown: When you have that environment where it's safe and OK to challenge each other, that's when you come to either the best conclusion. So it's good to see, to see that from each different person as well.

Julie-Ann Hall: It was really important from a Royal London standpoint, even though we funded the feasibility study, to actually be part of the steering group as well, and have a voice. And also to kinda hear all the other perspectives around the table. That was just fascinating and eye opening for us. It wasn't just about Royal London funding the feasibility study. We really want to be part of the legacy.

Shaunagh Brown: So even for a company like Royal London to come in and literally hoof down the door, and say, we want to help women's rugby, which then helps women's sport, which generally helps women. And if Royal London are concentrating, and The British & Irish Lions are concentrating on women at this moment in time, I want to be involved.

Ieuan Evans: I firmly believe that the Women's Lions would be a strong addition and a critical addition to sustaining the Lion's future. So it's the detail now that allows to take it course, the process, that detail, which is all important particularly when you're talking about something of the magnitude of a British & Irish Lions tour. 

Jenny Drummond: Thank you all very much for today. I think the collaboration between Royal London and the Lions is incredibly exciting to see a Women's Lions tour in the future. To see a Women’s Lions tour in the future – it’s a very, very exciting prospect indeed. So thank you all. Well, thank you for watching The Changing Room, and be sure to keep an eye out for episode two in the series, coming to you very soon.

Episode 2: Shaunagh Brown and Claire Molloy on the biggest changes in women’s rugby

In the second episode of The Changing Room, Jenny Drummond speaks to our ambassadors and former international rugby stars, Shaunagh Brown and Claire Molloy, to get their opinion on what’s driven the rise of women’s rugby. Filmed at Pontyclun Rugby Football Club, one of the biggest women’s rugby clubs in Wales, Jenny also speaks to members of the club about the changes they’ve seen since they got involved in the sport.

Shaunagh Brown: It's come a long way in a short space of time, but more importantly, there's still so much further to go. And so yeah, the game in general is in a good place at the moment and just excited for the future.

Jenny Drummond: Welcome to the Changing Room, where Royal London and the Lions, are bringing you the conversations that matter. And today, we'll be discussing how women's rugby has progressed over the years. I'll be joined by former England International, Shaunagh Brown, former Ireland International Claire Molloy, and members of the Pontyclun Falcons.

Jenny Drummond: Shaunagh, welcome to Pontyclun. Let's get straight to it. What are the biggest changes you've seen in the women's game over the last number of years?

Shaunagh Brown: One would be professional contracts and also crowd sizes. So, if we look at professional contracts, when I started playing for England, which wasn't that long ago, I was still working in the Fire Service. And that then was a big change, for it to be a professional rugby player. Even for me to say out loud, it took it took me a while to when someone says, oh what you do for a living? I'll say I play rugby and then seeing their faces like yeah but what else? I go no no, I play rugby as a woman.

Shaunagh Brown: So that was huge for us as England and then set the tone for what's now coming through from the other home nations in terms of giving their girls professional contracts because it's clear to see how much improvement you can make as a team if you if you just let your girls play full-time.

Claire Molloy: The elevation of the game and the visibility over the last years, it's just been massively transformative. Turning up at the airport in the last few years of my career and people going, that was a good game. Yeah, I really like what you did. You know going through security and getting recognised and the presence of women's rugby, it's just astronomical, the growth of it. And it's just brilliant being a part of it.

Shaunagh Brown: In terms of crowd sizes, I remember playing in Six Nations games at Doncaster in 2019 and we were buzzing that we filled a 5000 seater stand at Doncaster Knights and to then looking forward to our Six Nations this year, England versus France at Twickenham already sold 40,000 tickets so it has come a long way in a short space of time, but more importantly, there's still so much further to go. And so yeah, the game and general is in a good place at the moment and just excited for the future.

Nina - Pontyclun Falcons: When I was young, I just used to watch my brothers play rugby. On the TV it was the men's. I think since starting rugby myself, it's become a lot more popular. So that's really good to see. You know, Premiership teams have separate pages for their men's and their women's rugby and it's just so good because it shows that there's a reason for it.

Jenny Drummond: What do you think some of the key drivers have been in terms of the development of the women's game in recent years?

Claire Molloy: I think it's the trailblazers. Like the people I owe my game to who started, you know, in the early nineties, who got a team together, who played the first international against Scotland, the first ever women's international. You know, those women lay down the foundations. You know, they knocked on doors that didn't want to be opened. And they really laid down the foundations and represented us and really kind of driven the women's game forward.

Jenny Drummond: Being a trailblazer doesn't come without challenges. But I wondered if you could talk me through maybe one of them in particular, and how you've dealt with it.

Shaunagh Brown: I guess the challenges have come when I've spoken publicly about being a woman in sport and in rugby and in particular being a person of colour and a woman in rugby, like it's different. Sometimes it's hard, but one of them in particular was, I think the headline was If I got pregnant tomorrow, I have no idea what my England contract looks like, something along those lines. I knew there was a whole context in the article, but I saw the headlines and I was like, oh no, they're never going to ask me to do an interview again.

But if somebody is asking me, is there an issue here? Is there a problem here? It'd be wrong for me to say no, and it would be wrong not only for me, but it wouldn't do the women's game justice and women in general justice

Jenny Drummond: So, I'm just wondering, how important do you think the stakeholders and the support of the stakeholders, just how pivotal are they to be able to grow the sport?

Claire Molloy: I think it's massive like the collective buy in from the person who buys the tickets to come and watch the game, the person working at the game, the sponsor, the TV company, the broadcasters, unions. We need everyone to buy in and to show up. There's so much about women's sport that's empowering to a generation, you know, it's a fantastic product. I think people are beginning to recognise it now, but we need to keep driving that forward to keep it being sustainable.

Shaunagh Brown: You have to have the belief from people who make these decisions that us as women, we are worthy and then other people or brands or organisations, companies realise, oh, women are, women are pretty decent at rugby, especially if you give them the chance that the train full time. So, it's getting other people to realise that you invest in a project like you would do in any other project in life, and you don't necessarily get your return straight away, but that's the whole point of investment. And when you're invested in humans, it's about having that belief in them as well.

Kierra - Pontyclun Falcons: Now there's so much more exposure, like you've got everything in England. You've got the big hype of obviously the World Cup just happening and it's all been like the women's rugby are equally, you know, is more exposure if not the same in regards to the men's. So that's a big, big thing for me is just how accessible and how much exposure there's been.

Jenny Drummond: We've seen the women's game grow exponentially. What do you think the impact of the elite side of women's rugby has had on the grassroots level?

Claire Molloy: I think it's huge. Like to finally be able to kind of recognise household names in the women's game, you know, everything that's been pushed into the spirit of women's sport in terms of, you know, what we've seen in women's football and rugby now that you need to be able to see your idols, you need to see people like you succeeding on an international stage. Yeah, it might be out in Pontyclun playing rugby, but I want to be the next Jaz Joyce in the Olympics. You know, they think, I'll go out on the training pitch and that's what I want to aspire to be.

Jenny Drummond: Well, it's safe to say that women's rugby has made major strides over the years. Make sure you tune in for episode three of The Changing Room, where we'll be discussing the future prospects of women's rugby. We'll see you soon.

Episode 3: How to keep growing women's rugby?

In the third and final episode of The Changing Room, Jenny Drummond, Shaunagh Brown, Claire Molloy, and members of Pontyclun Rugby Football Club, face into what’s needed to keep women’s rugby growing. Recognising that the sport has come a long way but there is still a way to go until the playing field is level.

Claire Molloy: You know, if you're a little Pontyclun rugby player, and you're looking up at you know your big Lions star like Martyn Williams, you want to be there too.

Jenny Drummond: Welcome to the changing room, where Royal London and the Lions are bringing you the conversations that matter. And today we'll be discussing the future of women's rugby and the huge opportunities that lie ahead. I'll be joined by former England International, Shaunagh Brown, former Ireland International, Claire Molloy, and members of the Pontyclun Falcons.

Jenny Drummond: We’ve been discussing on The Changing Room a lot, the possibility of a women’s Lions tour and trying to actually put that into action. What kind of impact would a women's Lions tour have on the elite women's rugby game at the moment?

Shaunagh Brown: For me, I'd see it as you’ve suddenly been told there's an Olympic Games and your sport and the amount of girls who watch rugby on TV at the moment, they could see not only could I play for Wales, but I could play for Britain and Ireland in a Lions team.

Claire Molloy: You know, if you're a little Pontyclun rugby player, and you're looking up at you know your big Lions star like Martyn Williams, you want to be there too. You get to wear a Lions shirt. You don’t want to be excluded from the massive party that is the Lions.

Lisa - Pontyclun Falcons: We love our rugby, and we look up to the Lions and get excited for every four years. Like the fact that that could be, you know, attainable for females is it's exciting. There's so much more to the Lions than just the, do you know what I mean? The actual physical playing. It’s everything that comes with it.

Jenny Drummond: Now I want you to dial into the future, specifically 10 years ahead. Where do you think women's rugby will be at that point? And also, how do we get there? 

Claire Molloy: I hope in 10 years, we're looking at a professional league.

Jenny Drummond: Every single player?

Claire Molloy: Every single player is playing rugby, making their living through rugby. I think to get there we need to keep knocking on the door of getting the schools, commercial sponsors in, big companies like Royal London coming in and supporting the feasibility study. That’s the kind of people we need to get involved. You know we need to see them, look at the product of women’s rugby and say, well, this is where we want to be. This is the side we want to be on, supporting them being a trailblazer.

Shaunagh Brown: I honestly think we could be selling out, even at club level, club stadiums as much and as often as the men and as much. I’m not one to compare it to the men’s, it’s just like when you think where the men are now, that is the kind of place in terms of audience, in terms of traction, who watches it.

For me, that's where we could, hopefully, possibly be as a women’s team. As long as, like you say, the stakeholders stay on board. The companies are still invested in us, and still trying to grow the game and accepting that we’re going to have a different audience. We're going to have different types of people playing rugby.

I really enjoy the fact that England put rugby on the road, as we call it, in terms of we don't just play at Twickenham as a women's team, we go all around the country and so people then have access to us. 

Jenny Drummond: How important is it to inspire the next generation and for players to, to develop at something that we've mentioned and is so so fundamental grassroots level?

Shaunagh Brown: Someone asked me a question the other day, in terms of the World Cup. So, I’ve got 30 caps for England. Would I give 29 away to have won the World Cup final?

My answer was no, because then everything that I've personally done off pitch, everyone that is inspired by watching women play, everyone who sees the world differently now, everyone has a different perspective on either women playing rugby, women in sport or women in the workplace. Like none of that would have happened.

So as much as I love playing rugby and I love the pride and honour of playing for my country and what was my club in Harlequins. It's more than that for me, it is more than just keeping those people coming through the door and keeping their aim high. If they want it to be, it's ok to just stay here at Pontyclun and only play here, and play at local level, absolutely fine.

But let's give the girls a choice, give the girls a choice, whether they want to play local level, county level, or potentially the Lions.

Jenny Drummond: Well, it almost goes without saying the future of women's rugby looks very bright indeed, especially when partnerships like Royal London and the Lions, are helping to push the game to the next level.

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