The RFU has announced two new partnerships with In2Touch and the England Touch Association (ETA) as part of its O2 Touch scheme.

The three year agreements will see the organisations working excluslively with the RFU and O2 Touch to expand the reach of and participation in touch across the country.

Working alongside O2, the RFU is committed to establishing 75 new O2 Touch Centres by June 2013 and a further 100 during 2013/14. The initiative aims to broaden the reach and appeal of the game as the RFU creates a lasting legacy for the sport in the build up to and beyond RWC 2015.

The new partnerships will:

  • See the 16 existing In2Touch-owned leagues in England re-branded under the RFU/O2 Touch Rugby banner
  • Grow the profile of and increase the participation rate in these existing leaguesSet up and deliver new leagues under the RFU/O2 Touch Rugby banner
  • Increase touch participation with priority of importance placed upon adults (aged 14+) in clubs and generally throughout communities in England
  • Increase the number, and improve the quality, of touch referees and coaches in England through providing dedicated courses and qualifications by working with the ETA
  • Support the ETA's representative touch teams and enhance and widen the player pathways through RFU funding of international team wear.

Alastair Marks, RFU Head of Rugby Growth said: "We are delighted to be joining forces with two quality organisations in In2Touch and the ETA. They both have a wealth of expertise and experience in touch which will be invaluable as we look to grow the game's profile and increase participation.

"These partnerships will help us expand our offer beyond our existing 51 club-based and ten university-based O2 Touch Centres. They will also see O2 Touch entering the league market for the first time. Touch is a great way to keep fit and have fun and we are looking forward to introducing even more people to playing."

Michael Abromowitz, Managing Director, In2Touch added: "The RFU, with the launch of the O2 Touch programme, have embarked on a fantastic initiative which we are very proud to be involved in and assist in hopefully becoming the premier touch programme, not just in Europe, but the world.

"We are really looking forward to working with the RFU and the many rugby clubs affiliated to the RFU, to assist them in creating sustainable programmes of touch activity that will hopefully become a mainstay of every rugby community in England."

Gregg Cropper, President of the ETA, said: "England Touch is very excited about the partnership we are entering into with the RFU. We have an established framework for touch in England, but the sport has a relatively low profile.

"By partnering with the strongest brand in world rugby, we truly believe we can take the sport to new levels – both in terms of participation numbers and performance.

"Touch is a fantastic and extremely accessible sport for men and women of all ages and ability, and this partnership will enable a much greater percentage of the population to experience it firsthand."

For more information and to get involved, visit www.rfu.com/o2touch.

 

The sport of rugby is continually being exposed to new innovations and advancements in training techniques and technologies, and there is nothing more revolutionary than the GPS tracking vests.

These vests are wirelessly connected to a device which measures distance, speed, acceleration, heart rate, body load and impacts all during training or match play. The GPS sports products have transformed how professional sports teams plan and assess their athletes during training, matches, recovery and can analyse how successful a player's rehabilitation is.

This new innovation in performance analysis is one that has been adopted by the British and Irish Lions on their current tour of Hong Kong and Australia, with the touring players using the Catapult GPS / Accelerometry system. The Lions will be taking 35 Catapult S4 units to track the full squad in all training sessions and matches during the tour. The Lions have just played their first warm-up game against the Barbarians in Hong Kong, and have now arrived in Australia, playing six matches against Australian Provincial teams and three tests against Australia in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. The data collected from the Catapult system will be analysed by Dr Brian Cunniffe, the Lions Sports Scientist and Adam Beard, the Lions Head of Strength & Conditioning.

The tracking devices can be worn during training or competition, with someone on the sideline using a laptop or portable device monitoring a player's every move. New Zealand and Australia have been using this technology since January 2010, giving them the extra edge when training and competing, particularly in the 7s format of the game. The GPS system can show when a player becomes fatigued, and how much force they put into a tackle. Information which is sent directly to a wireless device from which they can decide if the players are working hard enough or not, or are not being physical enough in contact. The bench can also use this technical information to determine whether players need to be substituted or not.

Monitoring player's movement and workload with the tracking vests is only the first step of much technological advancement in rugby performance. Its introduction will only enhance training techniques, with coaches being able to tailor individual training programme's specifically catering for a player's physical strengths and weaknesses.

Not only improving the quality of training, the GPS systems can also help reduce the risk of players sustaining injuries, assessing the major points of contact in tackles and consequently being able to implement a rehabilitation programme for injury prevention. The RFU implemented a 3 year research project using GPS systems in 2009, analysing the impact of tackles on player's bodies with the aim of reducing the number of players suffering from serious injuries such as dislocated shoulders.

With the information available from the GPS devices, it's hard to criticise a piece of equipment which looks like it can only improve player performance and continue in the ever growing innovations being used in rugby today.

By James O'Neill

London Welsh chairman Bleddyn Phillips has today provided the following statement regarding the outcome of last night's Championship Final which cemented Welsh's relegation from the Premiership. 

"In light of the outcome of last night's Championship Final and confirmation of the relegation of London Welsh from the Aviva Premiership, I should like to make the following observations coupled with our congratulations to Newcastle for promotion back to the Premiership and commiserations to Bedford in what was a most spirited and closely contested set of games.

Before commenting on three aspects of our future which I know everyone is keenly interested to know more about but which it would have been premature and imprudent to comment upon prior to the result last night, may I in the first place thank everyone associated with the club over the past season for all their hard work and commitment which has seen us rightly regain our place among the leading clubs in English rugby.

We have performed with passion, dignity and displayed a competitive edge which many had not thought feasible given our late arrival in the Premiership and our relative shortfall in central financial funding. That we were still in a strong position to retain our place in the Premiership until very late in the season is a tremendous tribute to the players, coaching staff and everyone involved with the administration and running of the club - not least the supporters and followers who have shown unstinting support and loyalty despite the challenges and difficulties which we have had to face in recent months. To all I offer our heartfelt thanks and appreciation.

It is precisely because of the above factors that it is important to underline that last season should not be regarded as a 'one-off' but rather as part of a continuous and sustained path to maintain our status as a leading professional rugby club with a clear ambition to regain our place in the Premiership. To achieve this we need financial stability, a solid 'home ground' and supporter base and, thirdly, a competitive squad to ensure we can again challenge seriously for a place in the top flight of English club rugby.

Taking each of these elements in turn, I am pleased to say that we have in place the financial resources to ensure we can indeed compete effectively among the top Championship clubs next season. This is fundamental to our continued success and to ensure that the all the hard work and success we have achieved is not allowed to dissipate and be squandered over the coming season. There are several people who have already committed substantial funds for next season and we are confident that several more will likewise lend their support in the weeks ahead.

The second element is to ensure we have a solid and commercially viable 'home' ground from which we can build upon and develop in the short, medium and long term. While some might understandably contend that we should now return to our long established home at Old Deer Park, there appears to be a much larger element among our supporter base who favour building upon and enhancing our increased and hugely committed following in the Oxford area, drawing not only from the local communities but also the long standing and incredibly loyal fans from Old Deer Park. This of course is also closely linked with the need to be commercially viable at the top flight of club rugby and the level of attendance for 'home' games is likely to be demonstrably higher if we continue to play in the Oxford area and thereby strengthen our following and support base - coupled of course with our traditional strength and support from Old Deer Park who have travelled so regularly and faithfully along the M40 in recent months.

There are at least two or three opportunities available to us in terms of ground location in the region for next season (including the Kassam Stadium where we have the option but not obligation to renew). There have been a number of discussions with several grounds and local clubs and we are very close to finalising what we trust will be an optimum solution for the club in both financial terms as well as the level of facilities available next season. Ease of access, public transport and parking are of course all elements which likewise need to be taken into account and we very much hope and expect a decision to be made within the next week to ten days. This of course is in addition to returning to Old Deer Park which remains very much an option but which is perhaps less consistent with an avowed intent to remain a strongly competitive Championship/Premiership club.

The third and final element is of course the squad itself and the coaching and support elements. We are very fortunate indeed to have a top class head coach in the shape of Lyn Jones and he, together with Kingsley Jones and our lead physio Chris Jenkins and Strength and Conditioning coach Ryan Campbell have been a tower of strength this past season along with their colleagues who have worked unstintingly with the players in making us as competitive as we have been. As regards the team itself, part of the price of success has of course been that several of our leading players, including our long standing captain Jonathan Mills, have, understandably, received offers from other Premiership clubs.

To these players we offer our heartfelt thanks for all the hard work and commitment they have shown to the club in recent years and wish them every success for the future in their new surroundings. But the great majority of our squad will remain with us and we also have a further eight new signings of top quality players who are very much looking forward to playing with us next season. We have worked long and hard in recent weeks to ensure that we will be in a position to put out a very strong squad next season and an announcement on this will be made in the next few days. This will serve to reinforce the messages above about our commitment to maintain our position as a top flight rugby club and our clear goal and objective to regain our place in the Premiership.

Finally, my thanks to you all for your patience, understanding and continued commitment and loyalty in what has been a very challenging, yet at the same time highly rewarding, period in the club's long and distinguished history. It is very much appreciated and I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible next season as we pursue our goal of winning the Championship."

Melbourne Storm have appointed former Harlequins rugby union chief executive and coach Mark Evans as their new CEO.

The 54-year-old, who spent a decade with Quins, has been handed the new role after the NRL champions were sold by News Limited to a private consortium put together by New Zealand entrepreneur Bart Campbell.

The Storm have been owned by News Ltd since entering the premiership in 1998.

Outgoing chief executive Ron Gauci said: "This is an important moment in the history of this great club. My appointment in July 2010 was all about making this day possible.

"We are delighted Mark Evans has become CEO. He is regarded as one of the best CEOs in any form of rugby in the UK and he has considerable rugby league experience."

Campbell, a former lawyer now based in England, is currently the non-executive chairman of the international sports management and marketing company TLA Worldwide.

The other new Storm shareholders will be announced in two weeks.

 

It's been confirmed today that Bank of Ireland has agreed to become main sponsor of Munster Rugby from July 2013. The sponsorship includes exclusive branding of all playing and training kit for the Munster senior and "A" teams.

The agreement, which was announced on the clubs website, is set to run for five seasons, and which continues a long relationship with the Bank dating back 15 years to 1998, firstly as main sponsor and more recently as official banking partner.

Speaking at the Bank of Ireland's National Enterprise Week event in Thomond Park, David Merriman, Regional Manager South West said: "We are delighted to renew what has been a very successful association with Munster Rugby.

"This announcement will extend our formal association dating back 15 years and this represents a proud relationship for our bank with this great province.

"The unique identity of Munster Rugby together with its large and loyal support base throughout Ireland provides an excellent fit for Bank of Ireland and we look forward to promoting Munster Rugby and our association with them through more than 70 branches in Munster, with our large customer base and in strong partnership between Munster Rugby and our staff. It also provides a powerful platform for Bank of Ireland to engage with the Munster Rugby public".

Commenting on the announcement, Garrett Fitzgerald, CEO Munster Rugby said: "Munster Rugby is pleased to have Bank of Ireland become our main sponsor from next season onwards.

"We have had a fantastic relationship with Bank of Ireland extending back to the early professional days of Munster Rugby and seeing it come full circle demonstrates the value we both see in such a partnership. We look forward to more successful days ahead."

Premiership Rugby has extended its partnership with the UK's largest insurance company, Aviva, for a further three years.

The contract will start from the 2014 - 15 season and will be in place for what is being described as a 'golden era' of rugby as England hosts the 2015 Rugby World Cup and rugby union re-joins the Olympics in the form of the popular sevens format.

"We are delighted to be extending our partnership with Aviva until the end of the 2016-17 season," said Premiership Rugby Chief Executive Mark McCafferty.

"Aviva has been a hugely supportive partner since joining the Premiership Rugby family for the start of the 2010-11 season. It's crucial for any professional sport to forge a strong bond with their title sponsor, and we have certainly done this with Aviva."

The announcement was made on Friday, just hours before the 2012 - 13 Aviva Premiership Final, which sold out in record time.

Robin Spencer, CEO UK & Ireland GI, from Aviva, added: '"The extension of our partnership with Premiership Rugby is a testament to the fact that it continues to work well for the business and deliver significant returns. It has been very successful in strengthening the relationships we have with our customers and, during an exciting period of growth and interest in the game, will be increasingly used as a key part of our brand and business development."

 

Cardiff Blues have announced that the Arms Park pitch will be replaced with an artificial pitch for next season after approval by their board, BBC Wales have reported.

Blues have taken this decision following the poor state of their natural playing surface since they returned to their famous home in 2012 following a relocation to the new Cardiff City Stadium in 2010.

While this decision still needs approval from the Welsh Rugby Union, BBC Wales have reported that this will likely be purely a formality.

The task of replacing the natural grass is planned to begin in early June

Celtic Rugby, which administers the Pro12 League, and ERC, the body which runs the Heineken Cup, have both already given the plan their blessing.

Blues chief executive Richard Holland confirmed the region had agreed terms with a supplier and had a financial plan in place to cover the estimated £400,000 installation costs.

The Blues took part in the first professional rugby match to be played on Saracens' artificial pitch at Allianz Park in January this year, and the region's management were impressed with the surface.

It was a significant development given the criticism levelled at the Cardiff Arms Park pitch during the 2012-13 season.

The Blues had previously shared the Cardiff City Stadium with the Welsh capital's football team, but returned to rugby's traditional home in the city after poor attendances and pressure from fans.

However, at the start of May, Holland admitted that the ground at the Arms Park was not suitable for modern rugby.

"We have Lions backs and world-class youngsters, but they can't run in mud," he said.

"We are part of the entertainment industry and we can't expect fans to pay £15 or £20 or buy a season ticket."

The friendly match against Sale Sharks on Friday, 23 August, is likely to be the first game played on the new surface.

Guinness, the world famous Diageo-owned beer brand, has announced two long-term sponsorship deals, with both England's Rugby Football Union (RFU) and the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU).

Guinness replaces Greene King IPA as the official beer of England Rugby in a four-year deal. Greene King IPA's previous agreement expired at the end of the 2011/12 season.

An official press release stated that, 'the partnership will create unique opportunities to deliver engaging experiences for all supporters, not just those at Twickenham', and will build on Guinness's existing collaborative relationship with the governing body.

Sophie Goldschmidt, chief commercial officer at the RFU said: "We are delighted to be announcing another long term partnership with a brand that has a strong rugby association and shares our aims to prioritise fan engagement. This new broadened partnership with Guinness is in line with our strategy to have integrated more enhanced partnerships and we are looking forward to working with them to provide the best match day experience for fans."

In addition to the new deal with the RFU, Guinness has also extended its official partner agreement with the WRU until at least 2016.

Guinness maintains its official partner status with the WRU, a partnership which first started back in 2010, alongside the likes of Admiral, Gilbert, Brains Beer, Powerade, Heineken, Under Armour and Seat.

Roger Lewis, WRU chief executive, said: "We are delighted to be announcing the continuation of our partnership with Guinness, a brand that has such a strong rugby heritage. We have worked closely with Guinness over the last three years and we look forward to developing the best match day experiences for our supporters over the coming three years."

The financial terms of both deals were not released.

With the 2013 British and Irish Lions first game just weeks away, global logistics firm DHL has announced a partnership with the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) to become the naming rights partner of the tour.

The agreement with the ARU, the hosts of the tour, will see the nine-match series renamed as the DHL Australia 2013 Lions Tour.

The deal signifies a welcome boost for the ARU, who announced a loss of AUS$8.3 million in April, followed by the reported talks over the tour naming rights with Australian bank Westpac which were believed to have broken down in early May.

It is not yet known what financial investment was required from DHL to secure the naming rights, however South African Breweries Ltd (SAB) paid US$2.5 million for title sponsorship of the last Lions tour in South Africa in 2009.

ARU chief executive Bill Pulver said: "DHL is one of the world's most iconic rugby partners and a natural choice as the naming rights partner for the tour. A British & Irish Lions Tour is unlike any other event in world sport and we are extremely excited to partner with DHL to deliver what promises to be the most successful tour in Australian rugby history.

"12 years ago we sold 300,000 tickets. This year we're on track to see 400,000 fans walk through the gates to celebrate one the world's most iconic sporting teams taking on the cream of Australian rugby. With only a handful of tickets left, the DHL Australia 2013 Lions Tour is shaping up as the must-see sporting event of the year."

DHL Express senior vice president Oceania, Gary Edstein, added: "DHL is excited to bring the Lions down under as partner of the 2013 British & Irish Lions Tour to Australia. As a sport played all over the world, rugby is the perfect fit for DHL as a global brand.

"DHL is proud of past associations with rugby which are almost as far reaching as our network. DHL supports Rugby teams in Kenya, South Africa and Fiji. We also successfully delivered rugby to the world as the official logistics partner of Rugby World Cup 2011 and were a partner of the 2005 DHL Lions Series of New Zealand."

The DHL Australia 2013 Lions Tour gets underway on Wednesday 5th June with the tourists taking on the Western Force at Patersons Stadium in Perth, with the first test to take place on June 22nd at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.

This season's Aviva Premiership Rugby Final has sold out for the fifth year in a row, Premiership Rugby has today announced.

With over 82,000 fans set to descend on Twickenham this Saturday to see Leicester Tigers take on Northampton Saints, tickets have sold out faster than any other Premiership Rugby Final, with all profits returned to the 12 Aviva Premiership Rugby clubs.

"The appeal of Aviva Premiership Rugby is at an all-time high and selling out the Final so quickly this year is great news for professional club rugby in England," said Dominic Hayes, Premiership Rugby's commercial director.

"Saturday's game has captured the public's imagination and the buzz around a Tigers v Saints match on a domestic rugby's biggest stage is huge. It is testament to the great work of the team involved in marketing the Final and also to our 12 clubs, all of whom will be well represented at Twickenham on Saturday."

The news comes at a poignant time for the sport, following the recent announcement which sees Premiership Rugby in a new four year agreement with BT, giving the broadcaster rights to show up to 69 live matches per season via its new platform, BT Sport.

The final will be shown live on ESPN, 5 Live and talkSPORT, with an extended highlights programme on ITV4 at 11pm on Saturday night.