The RFU is delighted to announce Prince Harry as its new patron, following a Buckingham Palace announcement earlier today that Her Majesty The Queen will be handing over the patronage at the end of this year.
The Queen has been patron of the RFU for 64 years having held the role since 1952, after taking over the position from her father, King George VI, following his death.
The Queen has attended numerous rugby matches at Twickenham and two Rugby World Cups in the United Kingdom (1991 and 1999). As one of her last acts as Patron, alongside Prince Philip and Prince Harry, The Queen last year hosted an event at Buckingham Palace during the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Over 400 senior officials from the RFU, England Rugby 2015, World Rugby, players, staff and volunteers working at the tournament attended.
Prince Harry has been Vice Patron of the union since 2010. A big rugby fan, he regularly attends England matches at Twickenham and has supported the work of the RFU and its charities in that time. Prince Harry was also Honorary President of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Peter Baines, RFU President, said: "It has been a privilege and an honour to have The Queen as Patron of the RFU for over 60 years. She has been a fantastic supporter of the union and we thank her for that and her contribution to the game of rugby in England."
He added: "We welcome Prince Harry as our new Patron. He has been Vice Patron for a number of years already and a regular at England Tests at Twickenham. He has been a brilliant ambassador of our work in the community and our charities as well as internationally for the union as President of the 2015 Rugby World Cup."

The Aquis Gold Coast Titans have today signed a three-year apparel partnership with Classic Sportswear, through until the end of season 2019.

Classic Sportswear has been manufacturing sportswear for over 80 years and is recognised throughout the sporting industry as a quality and reliable manufacturer, particularly in the Rugby League world.

With this announcement, the club has reluctantly ended its relationship with BLK after its parent company, World Rugby Specialists Group, went into receivership last month. Since that news became public knowledge, the Titans have continuously sought guarantees from BLK and the Receivers that our 2017 apparel would be produced and delivered on time as required under our contract. Unfortunately, despite repeated requests the club has not been provided with the necessary comfort to continue the relationship.

CEO Graham Annesley admitted that the decision to leave BLK was taken with a heavy heart.

"Anytime something like this happens it is difficult to process, and it has been made even more gut-wrenching as BLK is a local Gold Coast based company, " Annesley said.

"Unfortunately, we have had to make this decision to ensure we are in a position to meet our 2017 NRL commitments with the new season now just around the corner. Although we really feel for BLK, we are absolutely delighted to be entering a long-term partnership with Classic Sportswear.

"Classic is a well-respected brand with a long association with Rugby League, so today's announcement of the new deal is a great result for the club, our members, and our supporters. We are very excited about the future prospects for the Titans and our partnership with Classic."

Classic Sportswear CEO Steve Noyce is delighted to be joining forces with the Titans.

"We are extremely excited to be partnering with the Aquis Gold Coast Titans," Noyce said. "Season 2016 saw the team improve significantly and we believe there are some exciting times ahead for the club. We also see great opportunities in growing their brand through our Retail network and working with them in the general community in which we have some strong relationships."

"It is a first for our company to have an elite sporting team in Queensland so we believe this will be the start of a long and prosperous partnership. We are very appreciative of the opportunity and the level of professionalism of the organisation during this period of change and have no doubt that this will continue in the years to come."

The Western Force proudly announced today that the club will continue its partnership with leading engineering and project services contractor, Clough, with the company signing on as a Major Partner through to 2019.

Established in 1919, Clough provides services to the Hydrocarbons, Marine, Minerals, and Infrastructure markets in Australia; Asia; Europe, Middle East and Africa; and North America. Clough has been on board with the Western Force as a Major Partner and collar sponsor since 2014.

Entering their fourth season with the club, Clough's logo will proudly feature on the right chest of the Western Force jersey for the next three seasons.

Today's announcement also marks the unveiling of the 2017 Western Force home jersey. The club has decided to go back to the traditional design of the blue jersey with the iconic black swan.

A return to this style demonstrates pride in playing for Western Australia, shows respect for our past and provides us with strong direction moving forward.

Western Force General Manager Mark Sinderberry welcomed the continued partnership with Clough saying it is fantastic to have the ongoing support of the Western Australian company.

"We are proud to be partnering with Clough for another three seasons and we are thrilled to have the continued support of such a prominent Western Australian company."

"Clough shares our passion for growing rugby from the grassroots level right through to the Western Force and over the last three years have been integral in helping our club strive towards our goals.

"The relationship is further strengthened by this agreement and we thank Clough for standing by us in a difficult time as we look forward to an exciting next three years of this partnership."

Clough CEO and Managing Director, Peter Bennett, said his organisation is thrilled to renew our partnership with the Western Force through to 2019.

"Clough is proud to continue to stand beside the Force, both in difficult times such as these, and in the good times that will surely come. Being a partner with the Western Force and continuing our commitment to keeping Super Rugby in Western Australia, which aligns our interests in the game and the local community."

To find out more about Clough, visit www.clough.com.au .

 Reg Clark, Chief Executive of Rhino Rugby and Octavian Morariu, President of Rugby Europe, signed an agreement on Friday December 9th 2016 during Rugby Europe General Assembly meeting, appointing the manufacturer as “Rugby Europe Official Balls Supplier” for the 2017-2021 period.  

As a part of the contract, Rhino Rugby will provide all balls necessary to Rugby Europe official competitions, meaning around 80 international games and 20 European tournaments each season, in fifteen-a-side, seven-a-side and beach-rugby for men and women played throughout the 48 member unions.

In addition to the provision of balls, Rhino Rugby will assist Rugby Europe and its union members to grow the game via balls and additional technical equipment preferential offers, necessary for the practice of rugby. 

Octavian Morariu, President of Rugby Europe and IOC Member declared: “We are thrilled that RHINO Rugby joins Rugby Europe with this long-term partnership. Their proven expertise in top-level tournaments and championships will be very useful in the upgrade of our competitions. This is also a huge opportunity for Rugby Europe to support the unions in their development.”

Reg Clark, Chief Executive of Rhino Rugby comments :  “Rhino is delighted to become Official Ball Supplier to Rugby Europe and in addition to assist the 48 unions in its membership with the technical equipment needed to develop the game in those territories.  We operate at the highest levels of the game across many product categories but are equally committed to grass roots rugby.  We are looking forward enormously to working with Rugby Europe and its member unions.”

The first competition to be played with the Rhino Vortex Elite ball will be the first match-day of Rugby Europe Championship, the European Tier2 including Georgia, Romania, Russia, Spain, Germany and Belgium which will start on February 11th 2017. 

Wed 14th December 16 :

Suzuki sign on with Storm

Suzuki will remain a key part of the Melbourne Storm family through the 2018 season after extending their commitment to the Club as a premium sponsor.

This new agreement will see the affiliation between Storm and Suzuki extend to a decade-long partnership.

After first teaming up in 2008, Suzuki has remained the Club's exclusive motor vehicle partner, all the while showing a level of commitment that perfectly aligns with Melbourne's constant pursuit of excellence.

Over that time, the iconic Suzuki "S" has adorned the sleeves of all Melbourne Storm players. That logo positioning will continue with the contract extension.

Storm Chief Commercial Officer Ben Dunn said the Club was excited at the opportunity to continue to work alongside Suzuki.

"We are delighted to have Suzuki continue their support of Storm and appreciate the loyalty they have demonstrated," Dunn said.

"Our joint focus is to continually improve the game day experience and enhance opportunities for Storm fans & members to benefit from the Suzuki partnership.

"We look forward to continuing to work closely with Suzuki to innovate throughout the new term of the partnership."

General Manager of Suzuki Andrew Moore echoed the strong connection between the two organisations.

"Suzuki has enjoyed a fantastic partnership with Melbourne Storm that has seen unrivalled NRL success. We are pleased that our partnership will span a decade."

The JCB distribution company, that joined the Glasgow Warriors partner family at he beginning of last season, celebrated the renewal by hosting a training session at Cambuslang Rugby Club led by Warriors Assistant Coach Kenny Murray.

Cambuslang, who also partner with Scot JCB, has an impressive list of notable alumni including Warriors co-captain Jonny Gray.

Steve Bryant, Managing Director of Scot JCB said: "The publicity we have had since joining the partnership has been positive and to have the Warriors hosting a training session at Cambuslang has been well received by Jamie and all the players."

Glasgow Warriors managing director Nathan Bombrys said "We're pleased that Scot JCB have decided to partner with us for another season.

"It's great that they celebrated the renewal by supporting a community club and I look forward to another year of partnership."

Following the training session, Cambuslang coach Jamie Seery said: "We were delighted to have Kenny Murray down delivering a session thanks to sponsors Scot JCB and Glasgow Warriors.

"The session Kenny delivered was exactly what we needed and he was great with the players who have taken a lot of key points away from the session around defence."

The Sharks have entered into a partnership with Canterbury South Africa, as our new apparel sponsor.

Canterbury is one of the leading rugby kit manufacturers in the world, and over the years have had a long and illustrious list of teams and players that they have sponsored across the globe.

Commenting on this re-established partnership The Sharks CEO, Gary Teichmann said: "The involvement and inclusion of our community are integral to the Cell C Sharks success going forward. Canterbury's philosophy of rugby belonging to everyone and making products in the same inclusive spirit, ties into our vision".

"Both brands share great respect for tradition and that together with a pioneering spirit and forward-thinking approach, will ensure the strength and success of our partnership."

Wayne Bebb, Chief Executive of Brand ID, the licence holders for Canterbury in South Africa added: "We are extremely proud to bring The Sharks into the Canterbury family. As a brand we believe in the incredible passion and commitment to rugby and The Sharks is a wonderful example of these values, history and future commitment to the sport."

The Cell C Sharks home and away jersey for the 2017 Vodacom Super Rugby tournament will be launched at Growthpoint KINGS PARK this evening.

St Helens. announces a new and expanded sponsorship deal with Totally Wicked which includes the principal naming rights for the stadium for the next five years.

The financial value of the sponsorship contract is the largest in the history of the Club and reflects both the quality of the stadium facility and the brand of St Helens.

North West based Totally Wicked's existing sponsorship of the Club is now in its fourth year, having sponsored the Totally Wicked North Stand since 2013 and been a sponsor of the shirt since 2014.

Saints' existing agreement with developers Langtree expires at the end of this year, at which point the stadium will be renamed the Totally Wicked Stadium. As part of this new and valuable sponsorship deal, Totally Wicked's logo will continue to be seen on both the home and away shirts in its present form.

Saints is committed to supporting fans that wish to switch from smoking to a significantly less harmful alternative (vaping). Fans are therefore allowed to vape within the stadium and this will continue to be the case under this new sponsorship deal.

The decision to allow fans to vape within the ground was taken after careful consideration of the very latest government backed evidence which makes clear that vaping does not undermine the smoking ban and that there is no evidence of harm to bystanders from second-hand vapour from e-cigarettes.

Speaking about the new partnership Eamonn McManus, Chairman of St.Helens R.F.C. said:

"Totally Wicked has been a loyal and valuable supporter and sponsor of Saints for the last four years. For the Club, this new increased sponsorship deal was a natural development of an already established relationship that has been of tremendous benefit to the Club, not just financially, but also in supporting our wider health objectives. It also represents the most financially valuable long term sponsorship in the Club's history.

"The Club plays an active role not only in sport, but also in health and education, and over the last four years of working with Totally Wicked, we have been able to create a supportive and vape friendly atmosphere at the Club. We believe this new deal will further this pioneering work by not only helping to raise awareness yet further of the damage smoking tobacco can do also in deterring people from taking on the habit in the first place."

Fraser Cropper, Managing Director of Totally Wicked, concluded:

"We are delighted to further our partnership with Saints and are looking forward to many successful seasons with one of the great clubs of world rugby league.

"As a company, we do not see this sponsorship deal as a new venture, but a logical next step in our relationship with Saints. Over the past four years, as sponsor of the North Stand and team shirts, we have worked closely with the club and were delighted to have the opportunity to expand our support.

"As a privately owned local business, we understand the importance of a community's club and it is a privilege and a responsibility which we will cherish and respect to be a part of a club with such heritage. We are confident that we can strengthen the brand and reputation of St Helens even more.

"The last four years have been an exciting time for both Saints and Totally Wicked and I and my team very much look forward to the next five years of this relationship and beyond as we continue to develop our relationship with Saints and the wider community."

Swiss watch brand TAG Heuer has been named the official timekeeper and official watch of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2016-17.

Launched as the first day of the Dubai Sevens got underway, fans watching in more than 100 countries around the world will see TAG Heuer countdown clocks at each match, half-time and full-time. On big screens in the stadium, TAG Heuer will also count down to kick-off.

With more fans than ever before, rugby sevens is a perfect fit with the #DontCrackUnderPressure spirit of TAG Heuer. The motto will be the guiding principle behind TAG Heuer's operations throughout the season and #DontCrackUnderPressure and spotlight videos, highlighting many of the high pressure moments in the game, will feature on World Rugby platforms.

Speaking at the launch in Dubai on Thursday, World Rugby Vice-Chairman Agustín Pichot said: "It's fantastic to welcome TAG Heuer to the rugby family. This will be a great partnership as we join up rugby sevens with this leading brand and countdown to another great season ahead."

Tag Heuer Global Sports Director, Marc Biver said: "We are very proud to be the first luxury watch brand to enter into the world of rugby sevens. The team spirit of rugby sevens ties in with TAG Heuer's #DontCrackUnderPressure motto. The HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series will give a tremendous visibility to TAG Heuer all around the world."

Sun 11th December 16 :

Article by Switch the Play

It was a real privilege to be invited to speak at Rugby Expo 2016, at the impressive Ricoh Arena in Coventry. Not least because I have always felt I was destined to perform on the big stage in my hometown but more importantly, I was there to talk about the current and hugely important topic of 'Duty of Care' for professional athletes. Switch the Play is a Social Enterprise founded on the core principles of assisting athletes in fulfilling their potential, through and beyond sport. Having a platform to talk so openly about life after sport with industry experts in an area that I know so well was an opportunity to relish.

Throughout the past 12 months, we have often posed the question to our guests and clients, who's responsibility is it to assist athletes with their transition at every age and stage of their journey? Many options are always thrown into the air, such as the last club they played for, the Governing Body, the family, the athlete themselves, the agent and so on. The answers are usually consistent in that it is 'all of the above' and in a collaborative way if we are to tackle the issues that are far too often being reported.

At Rugby Expo this year, the compulsory annual rugby agent's seminar took place not only on the same day, in the same venue, but also immediately prior to the Switch the Play masterclass around how better to assist rugby players with progression planning. It was like the opportunity for an agent to demonstrate to their clients how high they prioritise this topic was presented on a plate. You might be excused for thinking that it was a 'no brainer' and might even congratulate the Rugby Expo organisers for the foresight and for providing the opportunity for agents and intermediaries to demonstrate something that differentiates them from the crowd and committing to take the transition of players 'in their care' seriously. However, rather than point the finger or name and shame which is so easy to do, instead I will simply ask the question; how many of the 120 agents that were present, do you think would be an acceptable number to venture next door to find out more? The answer may be highlighted within the much-anticipated government Duty of Care review, headed up by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, which will be released shortly.

We are confident from our own research that it's certainly not just rugby where long-term athlete responsibility is lower down on people's priority lists. Understanding this, I urge athletes from all sports to take the responsibility into your own hands and understand that no one will have your best interest at heart better than yourself. Regardless of the sport, our research has delivered some consistent results when asking retired athletes to complete their own career Change Curve from their own journey. How many of you can relate to parts of my own personal journey?

The-Change-Curve

We were extremely pleased to have the support of, and to hear the views of Richard Bryan from the RPA, Ben Woods, former Leicester rugby player and now rugby agent, and Chris Bell, former Wasps rugby player and now Wasps Head of Off-Field Player Development. They offered great insights into what challenges the modern-day player faces and what each are doing to play their part in supporting them. This is an area that Switch the Play is passionate about trying to help resolve and we are fully aware there is not an overnight solution, nor one solved by a single organisation alone. With the proactive support that some clubs have shown, coupled with the enthusiasm of some current players reinforces our thoughts and focusses our ambitions to turn those minorities that have approached us, into the majority, as we move forward.

Partnering with Rugby Expo enabled us to deliver an overview of some of the interactive masterclasses we have delivered and allowed us to showcase our impressive list of best in class 'Pracademics' (Practitioners & Academics) that allow us to have such a wide outreach. We were also able to launch our new Athlete Journey which has been developed for the athlete by the athlete.

We are excited about what the future holds and how through our holistic view and the help of passionate people, we can work with the system and help reshape it keeping the athlete as the beneficiary. We are particularly keen to meet stakeholders that share our passion and enthusiasm for developing the next generation of sporting heroes, whilst helping the forgotten majority re-establish themselves too. If you would like to find out more about the work we do and help us drive this important agenda, or if we can help you or someone you may know, then please click here. Visit us at www.switchtheplay.com and follow us on Twitter @Switch_the_Play We look forward to hearing from you and welcoming you to one of our events in the near future.

Leon Lloyd
Director - Switch the Play
Author - 'Life After Sport'
Former International Rugby Player