Only four-in-10 women aged 18 to 24 had the opportunity to play rugby at school, new research has found.
The survey of over 3,000 adults in Ireland and the UK found that in Ireland, men aged between 45 and 55 were five-times more likely to have been offered the chance to play rugby when in school than women of the same age.
Male respondents aged 18 to 24 were less than twice as likely to have been offered the sport in school as women of the same age.
The data from Royal London also found just over one-in-20 of those aged 45+ were offered the chance to do so when at school.
One-in-five women in Ireland have never played rugby but would like to try it out.
Four-in-10 parents in Ireland say that children today have a wider choice of sports and facilities in local community spaces and at school than when they were a child.
More likely to play
Irish women aged 18-24 are also more likely (38%) than their Welsh (33%), Scottish (22%) or English (0%) counterparts to have had the chance to play rugby in school.
"The gender sports gap is narrowing", according to the research, but "there's still significant variation, depending on the sport".
When it comes to soccer in Ireland, 50% of women aged over-55 were offered it in school compared to 83% of men of the same age.
"This sport has also experienced very positive growth in the last 30 to 40 years with 81% of women aged 18-24 saying soccer was available to them at school," the survey found.
'Rugby the preferred choice'
Irish women showed a strong appetite to take up rugby more than any of the other nations surveyed.
In Ireland, 19% of women who haven’t played rugby would like to try it, compared to 12% of the wider survey group.
"Interestingly, rugby was a preferred choice over soccer, with 12% of those Irish women who haven't played saying they would like to play soccer," the researchers said.
Almost three-in-10 (29%) of the parents surveyed in Ireland say they will actively advocate for their children to play a team sport.
Rugby player Shaunagh Brown said increased accessibility is vital.
"In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the visibility of women in sport and this rise has been across the board," she said.
"Undoubtedly, we still have a lot of work to do but the Lions Women’s tour is a great example of the progress being made.
"Increased accessibility at grassroots level, including a practical overhaul of facilities at grounds, coupled with visible role models for women and girls to look up to will help with this," she added.
No Irish women aged 55 and over were offered the opportunity to play rugby at school.