The Rugby Players Association

Tom Williams retired at 29!  A former RPA Rep
Tom Williams retired at 29! A former RPA Rep

Having been lucky enough to receive an invite to the RPA Players’ Awards Evening I thought I’d find out more about the organisation.  I’ve heard the words – ‘The RPA help with that’ – when I’ve interviewed both players and ex players, but I really had no idea who they actually are or what they do.

Without the opportunity to interview anyone form the RPA (that may change I hope!) my source of information is good old Google, and mainly the RPA website itself.  So pretty much everything I’m going to write you can find out elsewhere but I’m going to do a whistle stop tour of what is a key and impressive association.

The RPA was founded by former Wasps and England player Damian Hopley,  looking at good old Wikipedia it’s interesting to see he has more than rugby in common with one of my first interviewees Hugh Vyvyan,  both having studied and received their degree in Theology.


Having played rugby all through his school and university career, he was a once club man, playing on the wing or in the centres.  His playing career was cut short at the age of 26 – he found himself needing support where there seemed to be none available.  And so the RPA was conceived.

So, what do they do?  A list below – one of which I’m going to expand on.

  • Player Representation
  • Player Welfare
  • Team England LLP
  • Player Development Programme

The Board of the RPA has a representative from each Premiership club and one from the Championship.  Through this board players can express suggestions or concerns on any area associated with the game or players’ development on and off the pitch. I imagine that membership of the board in itself is a good preparation for Life After Rugby.


Player Welfare was the very reason the RPA was formed, with Damian Hopley having found himself without support.  The RPA Medical Advisor works alongside the RFU and Premiership Rugby to produce Annual Injury Audits, in addition research is conducted into specific areas – a hot topic this season in particular has been concussion.  An aspect of this area is the provision of insurance, including career ending cover.

Team England LLP sees the RPA negotiating on behalf of England Players working closely with the RFU, covering areas such as Fees, win bonuses and Image Rights.

The final bullet point is the one that holds the most interest for me – having been 1st and foremost a rugby league fan, the death of Terry Newton in 2010 by his own hand shocked the RL world, Terry was a top class player, playing at Leeds, Wigan, Bradford and Wakefield.  He received a 2 year ban for testing positive for a Human Growth Hormone – 7 months later he took his own life.

Having lost my own son Luke, albeit to an accident, his death a year after Luke’s affected me profoundly.  Sport is a great love of mine, a passion – I’ve wanted to learn about what sport do to prepare players for Life After The Game.


The day to day world of a professional sportsman won’t look like most working days, and their careers certainly don’t look like most of ours.  I know of few careers where an injury can finish your career at such a young age.  Should a player see his career through the likelihood of playing a game such as rugby at the top level past your mid 30’s is slim.  Brad Thorne at 40 is a notable exception.

So, in addition to the other great benefits provided by the RPA they provide a Player Development Programme.  I am going to shamelessly lift an explanation straight from the RPA website –

The fundamental aim of the PDP is to develop well rounded individuals as well as fantastic rugby players. Members are encouraged from Academy level upwards to continue their studies and gain qualifications alongside their rugby to ensure they are prepared for life after rugby, especially if the worst case scenario occurs where a player is forced to retire prematurely through injury or professional contract being terminated.

That is a very fine aim – at present the RPA has 7 Player Development Managers working in the Premiership, the programme extends to England 7’s players as well as the club most recently relegated from the Premiership.  Their further aim is to expand the number of PD Managers to 12 one for each Premiership team and to expand into the Championship and Womens’ rugby.

To learn more about the Rugby Players Association and the good work they’re doing I recommend a visit to their website  They also work hand in hand with RESTART Rugby – more about them at


Tomorrow evening will be about the razzmatazz of Awards, celebrating the best of English rugby – the organisation behind those awards is about so much more than that.  A quick footnote before I finish, the RPA is in a way a union – I pay £240 a year to my Association – I get pretty much nothing from it!  Top Premiership players currently pay £175 annually, Academy and Championship players a mere £85 – that’s what I call good value!



About Debbie Knight

An Essex girl with a passion for both codes. A Saracens, London Broncos & London Skolars season ticket holder, likely adding Hemel Stags too! My articles are my view of the game (both) I've never played either, what you read is what I see. I try to be unbiased, shout if I'm not!

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