Queen passes Harry’s rugby patronages over to Kate Middleton - the first royal to receive a former role of the Sussexes
The Duchess of Cambridge has taken over the Duke of Sussex’s former roles as patron of the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and the Rugby Football League (RFL).
Kate was given the royal patronages by the Queen and Kensington Palace said the high-profile sporting appointments “closely align with Her Royal Highness’ long-standing passion for sport and the lifelong benefits it can provide”.
It makes the duchess the first member of the royal family to officially receive one of the Sussexes’ past patronages and the confirmation comes ahead of the start of the Guinness Six Nations tournament this weekend.
In a new video released by Kensington Palace to mark her new patronages, Kate can be seen passing a rugby ball to players.
The duchess said she was “thrilled” to take on the roles in a personal message accompanying the clip on social media.
The video shows her in workout gear and throwing a rugby ball off-screen.
In the next frame, the ball lands in the hands of Thea Northcott, a rugby union community game player, who passes it on to Harry Newman from the England rugby league men’s team.
The caption on Twitter reads: “I am so thrilled to become patron of the @TheRFL and @EnglandRugby.
“Two fantastic organisations who are committed to harnessing the power that sport can have in bringing communities together and helping individuals flourish.”
“I look forward to working with them across all levels of the games, and to cheering England on in what promises to be an exciting year for both sports! C”
The video also features Jodie Cunningham from the England rugby league women’s team, Maro Itoje from the England rugby union men’s team, James Simpson from the England rugby league wheelchair men’s team, and Poppy Cleall from the England rugby union women’s team.
England’s first Six Nations game at Twickenham is against Wales on February 26, following away games against Scotland and Italy.
Kate’s new affiliation with England Rugby puts her in direct competition with husband the Duke of Cambridge, who is the Welsh Rugby Union’s patron.
The duchess is herself expected to one day become the Princess of Wales, and she has supported Wales at matches with William in the past.
In 2015, the Cambridges backed Wales when they joined thousands of fans to watch the team’s 2015 Rugby World Cup clash against England at Twickenham.
Kate and William proudly sported the Welsh colours and sang the Welsh national anthem, while Harry wore an England rugby shirt with the message “Carry Them Home” at the back.
The Cambridges are already known for their friendly rivalry with one another, particularly during on-pitch sporting engagements.
Kate, 40, grew up watching England rugby games with the Middletons.
A source said: “The duchess has happy memories of watching rugby matches with her family as a child.”
The duchess’s sister, Pippa Matthews, spoke about the family’s love of rugby for Vanity Fair in 2014, writing: “Rugby was a big thing in our family, and the focal point was international matches, which were often played on Saturday afternoons and were as much social as sporting occasions.
“We’d plan our weekends around the matches.”
She added: “If we lost, my dad would be in a state of despair for the rest of the afternoon, as if he’d actually lost the game himself.”
It has long been reported that the duchess, seen as a safe pair of hands by the Queen, would be filling the gap left by Harry when he was stripped of the roles in February last year.
The duke, a passionate rugby fan who celebrated with England when they won the rugby union World Cup in 2003, had acted as RFU patron since 2016, and patron of RFL since 2017, taking over the roles from his grandmother.
After Megxit, he initially retained the positions and wanted to keep them.
But he was later stripped of all his royal patronages, along with his honorary military appointments, after talks with the Queen and senior royals as part of the 12-month review of the Sussexes’ decision to step down as senior working royals and move to the US.
A source at the time said Harry had “absolutely, no question” wanted to keep the roles he lost.
The RFU and RFL both welcomed Kate’s appointment on Wednesday.
Bill Sweeney, chief executive of the RFU said: “It is a great honour to welcome the Duchess of Cambridge as our patron.
“As rugby clubs have reopened across the country, players, officials, and volunteers are celebrating being back in the game together, and we know the support of the duchess will be greatly valued from our grassroots clubs and fast-growing women and girls’ game, right up to our elite men’s and women’s England teams.”
Ralph Rimmer, chief executive of the RFL, said the organisation is “truly honoured” by the duchess’s appointment.
“We are delighted to welcome her as we prepare to host men’s, women’s, wheelchair and physical disability rugby league World Cups in England this autumn.
“Our sport’s history has been built on a commitment to tackling inequalities and we honour that through our focus on having a positive social impact well beyond the pitch.”
Kate is known for her love of sport, and is already royal patron of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, the Lawn Tennis Association, SportsAid and the 1851 Trust.
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