THE QUEEN has given away the Duke of Sussex’s former roles as patron of the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and the Rugby Football League (RFL) to Kate Middleton.

Kensington Palace said the high-profile sporting appointments closely align with the Duchess of Cambridge’s “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.

The confirmation comes ahead of the start of the Six Nations rugby tournament this weekend.

Prince Harry, who was stripped of the roles in February last year, had acted as RFU patron since 2016, and patron of RFL since 2017, taking over the roles from his grandmother.

After leaving for the US, he initially retained the positions and wanted to keep them but was later stripped of all his royal patronages, along with his honorary military appointments after talks with the Queen and senior royals.

A source at the time said Prince Harry had “absolutely, no question” wanted to keep the roles he lost.

The RFU and RFL both welcomed Kate’s appointment on Wednesday.

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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 Prince 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 Prince William proudly sported the Welsh colours and sang the Welsh national anthem, while the Duke of Sussex wore an England rugby shirt with the message “Carry Them Home” on the back.

Kate grew up watching England rugby games with the Middleton family.

“The Duchess has happy memories of watching rugby matches with her family as a child,” a source said.

Her sister Pippa Matthews opened up about the family’s love of rugby for Vanity Fair in 2014, saying: “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.”

Bill Sweeney, chief executive of the RFU said: “It is a great honour to welcome the Duchess of Cambridge as our patron.

“Our aim is to enrich lives, introduce more people to rugby union, develop the sport for future generations and create a successful, thriving game across the country.”

Ralph Rimmer, chief executive of the RFL, said: “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.”