Representatives from the Rugby Football Union, World Rugby, Rugby Europe, UK Sport and 17 participating European nations will get together at Twickenham on Friday for a two-day conference to discuss the advances made since the Unity Project was launched a year ago.

What is the Unity Project?

The Unity Project is a collaborative partnership between the RFU, World Rugby, Rugby Europe and UK Sport. It forms an important of both the RFU’s Lead Up and Legacy programme and World Rugby's Impact Beyond programme which aim to maximise the impact of events ahead of Rugby World Cup 2015 and supports the development of rugby across Europe.

How does it work?

World Rugby and Rugby Europe selected 17 countries for the project to work with and these were twinned with the Rugby Football Union’s Constituent Bodies. Over the lifetime of the project (it runs until 2016), the European nations and their allocated Constituent Bodies will work together to devise and deliver development plans to support the growth of the game, with all of the work overseen by the Unity Project Board.

Who is involved?

Belgium - Eastern Counties, NLD
Croatia - Leicestershire, Warwickshire
Czech Republic - North Midlands, Staffordshire
Georgia - Kent, Essex
Germany - Hampshire, Hertfordshire
Hungary - East Midlands, Cambridge University
Netherlands - Cornwall, Devon
Poland - Surrey, Sussex
Portugal - Cheshire, Lancashire
Romania - Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire
Russia - Berkshire, Middlesex
Serbia - Buckinghamshire, Oxford University
Spain - Durham, Northumberland
Sweden, Denmark, Norway - Cumbria, Yorkshire
Switzerland - Dorset and Wiltshire, Somerset

What activities are taking place?

From pitch improvements to player participation, the Unity Project is proving beneficial to the 17 participating nations across all areas of the game.

Here’s a quick snapshot of some of the advances made in the last 12 months:

Case Study: Volunteering

At the national Growing the Game Festival run by the Rugby Union of Russia (RUR) Berkshire and Middlesex worked with the RUR and their clubs to come up with a plan for recruiting and retaining volunteers – a real challenge for a country where the culture of volunteering is emerging. They also held a session with clubs from Moscow to help them develop minimum standards for clubs in their region. The aim of the Moscow region is to been seen as the national leaders in club development and to then go on and share their knowledge and experience with other regions to help support the growth of the rugby across Russia. 

Case Study: Facilities

Keith Kent (pictured), the head groundsman at Twickenham, along with Kent and Essex representatives headed out to Georgia in May to assess their pitches and take part in two coaching conferences. Over three days six facilities were visited and the groundsmen worked to assess the pitches and come up with short and long term plans for improving the conditions. Since returning to England a maintenance proposal has been written and shared with the Georgians. One of the next steps will be to offer training to six groundskeepers next year with a view to improving the quality of pitches ahead of the World Rugby U20 Championship that Georgia is hosting in 2017.

Case Study: Participation: students/school children

Since the start of the project the Swiss Rugby Union have put a university sevens programme in place and next year Dorset and Wiltshire and Somerset will offer support with training more people to deliver this programme. The Constituent Bodies and the Swiss will also work together on developing a values of rugby session that can be run in schools.

Case Study: Coach Development

Coach development is one of the areas where most of the countries involved in the project have sought advice and guidance. In Serbia, for example, Buckinghamshire and Oxford University continue to work with the Serbians to train up more coaches to deliver rugby sessions in clubs and schools.  Amongst other activities 22 teachers will be put through the Tag Rugby Award and 24 coaches will be doing their World Rugby Level 2 award. Coach education projects are also currently underway in Hungary and Romania amongst others.

Case Study: Refereeing

2015 will be a big year for referee educators with a visit by Czech educators to the north west of England followed up by a visit from educators from the north Midlands and Staffordshire to the Czech Republic. The focus of these visits will be on how to recruit more referees into the game and to work together on the Czech referee development pathway. Refereeing development is also top of the Unity Project agenda in Germany.

Sharing knowledge and expertise across all these areas has been an enriching experience for all involved. 

The Verdict: RFU Chairman Bill Beaumont

The first year of the Unity Project has been exciting and challenging. It has been a real honour for the Rugby Football Union and its Constituent Bodies to work with 17 enthusiastic and inspiring unions. Throughout the scoping and inward visit stage of the project a great amount of knowledge and information has been transferred with a lot being learned. The delivery stage of the project is now well underway and we hope to see the impact grow over the coming months, resulting in a lasting legacy for rugby. 

The Verdict: World Rugby Chairman Bernard Lapasset

World Rugby is very grateful for the support, contribution and investment of all stakeholders involved in this. It is clear that this project is inspiring new partnerships and strong grassroots activities. RWC 2015 is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the game in England and, by extension, Europe and it will be a wonderful legacy for what is already proving to be a record-breaking tournament on many different levels

The Verdict: Rugby Europe President and IOC Member Octavian Morariu  

It is important to understand that the majority of the 17 Rugby Europe nations involved in the project are mature sports markets, in which rugby is challenged by many well-established sports and games. This is why the Unity Project, which is part of the World Rugby ‘IMPACT Beyond 2015’ blueprint is so important to us, helping Rugby Europe capitalise on the unprecedented level of interest generated by the 2015 Rugby World Cup tournament. It is ultimately about the good of the game on the continent and the array of objectives launched in our member unions by the 34 counties will only help rugby expand and get stronger in Europe.

The Verdict: UK Sport CEO Liz Nicholl

As we reach the end of year one, it has been fantastic to see the range of activities starting to take place across the participating countries as a result of the Unity Project. This programme has demonstrated how a major sporting event like the Rugby World Cup 2015 can act as a powerful catalyst for growing sport outside the host country, which will continue to have a real global benefit long after the event itself.

Did you know?

  • 4,000 school children have now been exposed to tag rugby in Serbian schools and of those, five per cent have joined local clubs
  • In Denmark and Sweden respectively, rugby is now the second fastest (+14 per cent) and fastest growing (+18 per cent) youth sport