With the Rugby World Cup coming to an exciting close, it’s important to look back and appreciate how much the Women’s game has grown in recent years. The Black Ferns’ 34-31 win in the final was watched by 1.3 million Kiwis alone, not including domestic live-streaming numbers, which could be in the hundreds of thousands. Women’s sports as a whole have seen massive growth in 2022, with an estimated 15.8 million new viewers who didn’t tune in back in 2021. World Rugby claim that if the growth continues at its current rate, by 2026 40% of all rugby players will be women.
The international growth of women’s rugby is a topic of significant interest. In particular, the growth of women’s rugby in the United States has been remarkable, with participation levels doubling each year for the past five years. Women’s rugby is experiencing a major spike in popularity around the world, with participation rates increasing at an exponential rate. The sport is now played in over 50 countries worldwide, continues to grow rapidly, and has passed the milestone of having played 1000 international test matches. Earning itself the title of “the world’s fastest-growing sport” in recent years.
The USA is set to host both the Men’s Rugby World Cup in 2031 and the Women’s tournament in 2033 and a growing number of US colleges and universities are investing in their women’s rugby programmes. With popularity at an all-time high, the women’s NCAA Division 1 championships were being broadcast live on ESPN+ this November, with the undefeated Dartmouth emerging 15-10 winner over Harvard.
The growth of women’s rugby across America is in full swing. From grassroots, collegiate, and international levels, women have taken up the challenge to be great sports ambassadors. Rugby is on the precipice of breaking through major barriers for female athletes in the US, but the true test is in creating a path for the next generation of players to follow.
Looking at the current USA Eagles team, the squad is populated with several alumni from some of the top Women’s rugby collegiate programs. The introduction of age group development programs and high-level high school competition has contributed to the recent success of the USA in both the XV and seven-a-side formats. Arguably their crowning achievement came in 2017 when they finished fourth in the World Cup in Ireland, losing narrowly to France in the third-place playoff game. It is evident that the standard of play at the collegiate level has made for an easier transition to the professional game, and this shows on the pitch. Players like Kristin Thomas and Abby Gustaitas have featured heavily for both the USA Eagles at 7s and XV a-side teams in recent years, playing during both the 2017 World Cup run and USA’s silver medal-winning 2019 in 7s during the Pan-American Games. Kristin Thomas began her rugby career at the University of Central Florida, and Abby Gustaitas was introduced to the game by a friend at the University of Maryland. A more recent example of a player making a smooth transition from the collegiate level to the professional game would be Ilona Maher. Ilona attended Quinnipiac University, and began her rugby-playing career. More recently Ilona played with the USA Eagles 7s team at the 2020 Olympics and went on to be selected for the 2022 World Cup squad.
Elite Rugby Scholars is a program that connects top-level men’s and women’s rugby players with elite coaches and training opportunities in the US. This academic year we have at least 4 female players placed at colleges across America and Canada.
We’re looking for players who are passionate about their sport, want to be coached by the best and are willing to work hard in order to improve their skills while receiving a first-rate education in some of the most sought-after academic institutions in the world. If you’re looking for a way to take your game to the next level and further your education, reach out via our contact form and set up a consultation!