A Rugby Life

A Rugby Volunteer's Blog

The demise of RugbyFirst

RugbyFirst%20LogoEight years after it was launched as the way forward for the administration of the community game, RugbyFirst will be replaced by a new Game Management System or GMS for short.


RugbyFirst has never had a very good reputation, unfairly in my opinion, with too many people quick to decry its shortcomings and conveniently forgetting those parts of it that worked well and made a club administrator’s life much easier.

So what was RugbyFirst?  Put simply, it was a database that was created to replace a number of separate databases that held all sorts of important information about rugby in England; registrations, club officers, referee and coach data, disciplinary sanctions, fixtures & results, etc.  That database is largely remaining the same; what is changing is the interface that allows us to access the data. but such was the unpopularity of RugbyFirst amongst some of sectors of the game that politically it was better to be seen to be having a complete overhaul of the system.

But there were many facets of RugbyFirst that worked very well, such as the online Player Registration system that got rid of forms being put in the post to the Divisional Registrar and a letter being sent to a player’s previous club.  RFU leagues from the Premiership down to County level were accessible through RugbyFirst with Saturday’s results usually available by 6pm, a far cry from waiting for the Sunday papers to read the scores.  Merit Tables, County Cups, youth leagues were all able to be administered through the system with an archive of results going back over 15 years.

Possible the most useful feature of RugbyFirst was the abililty to send personalised bulk emails to club members, filtered by players or by teams or by roles.  At County level that facility was expanded to allow emails to be sent to every club in the area, and of course the RFU used it to send messages to the game in general.

There were some things that seemed a good idea at the time but never were never widely used, such as the Team Builder feature which allowed you to select your team and then send emails to let players know they were in the squad.  But this depended on every player and member keeping their contact details up to date which meant giving them all a username and password, and of course they would never log in meaning that an administrator had to try to keep all the details up to date himself; an impossible task given the transient nature of some rugby players moving between school, university and different employments.

The facility to build your own club website was used by a lot of clubs and counties to start with.  It was free and although a little clunky, fairly simple to use once the basics had been mastered, but to some extent it was a victim of its own success.  I sat on the RugbyFirst Project Board from 2006 as one of a number of users to advise on areas for improvement and development.  Increasingly, the development requests centred more on the the web-building facility and less on the core areas of RFU work such as player, referee, coach and volunteer development, club development and growing the game.  The new Game Management System will not have any website function so clubs will be encouraged to go to establshed free website building sites such as Pitchero.

But the biggest criticism of RugbyFirst was its inability to accurately count the number of people playing the game, one of the the key functions it was set up to do.  I well remember the Project Board meeting where the decision was made to go ahead and use RugbyFirst as the main system to count players despite the advice from users that this would not work.  The problem was that although administrators would dutifully put a player onto the database when they played a game for one of the lower teams, they would rarely if ever take them off again if they stopped playing or moved away.

The effect of these ‘ghost’ players was to dramatically increase the number of people that the RFU thought were playing the game.  If each club in England had just 10 recorded players that had in fact stopped playing, that would increase the perceived playing number by 12,000.  Sure enough, when Sport England compared the RFU’s figures with its own gleaned from surveys, there was a huge gap which resulted in a cut in funding.

This effectively signalled the death knell for RugbyFirst and work started on a completely new Customer Relationship Management system of the which the GMS is one part.  It is to be launched at the beginning of August along with a new EnglandRugby.com website and a personal area for each user called MyRugby.  Training dates are being set up and clubs will be invited to none of three to be held in Eastern Counties.

I will miss RugbyFirst despite its occasional foibles but I am looking forward to working with rather unimaginatively named GMS.



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