In January 2019 everyone in the England’s Women Rugby squad (The Red Roses) became fully professional, awarded contracts by the Rugby Football Union. The RFU made it clear from the outset that it required success and straight away the target was the prestigious Six Nations championship in 2019.
The RFU had plans also to help promote and develop the growth of women’s rugby and to double participation by 2021, attracting more players, coaches, referees and other supporting roles. The plan was to do this all in time for the world cup in New Zealand in 2021 – now to be held later this year in the Autumn of 2022 due to the global pandemic.
Plans have come to fruition over the past 4 years with England winning a record matching 23 games in a row culminating in another Grand Slam and Championship win in the 2022 Six Nations in what was a thrilling final match against France, with ‘Sell Out’ crowds in what was named ‘Le Crunch’.
So why does being a professional rugby player help the England Squad become the most dominant team in women’s rugby?
The Red Roses – the women’s national rugby team have been professional the longest amongst all their contemporaries. With international teams such as Ireland and Wales still being ‘Amateur’, that is requiring to work in other jobs to supplement what little pay/compensation they may receive from their National Union. In amongst most other squads there are international players who’s full time jobs include being mum, nurses, teachers, police, army officers to name a few as well as normally representing their rugby club.
Having a ‘fully’ professional approach to team sport enables each and every member of the England squad to have access to the best facilities, coaches, sports science, nutrition and physiotherapy. They can concentrate on rugby alone and can then switch off when they return home or back to their club.
Being submersed in the rugby bubble helps them to achieve the best possible result but is it fair on the rest of the world?
Along their recent journey The Red Roses have obliterated teams including New Zealand’s - Black Ferns – in an Autumn Series seeing them thrash their closest rivals 56-15 in their final game. A sign of things to come perhaps for a final in Auckland later this year. Also, the Red Roses thrashed USA 89-0 in what was an embarrassing game for the visitors. Was it fair of the home team to destroy a visiting team in such a way? The answer has to be ‘Yes’. It is for the rest of the world to catch up, to see the benefits of professional contracts to enable more women, athletes of all shapes and sizes, to be attracted to the game and to grow the game in their country. By doing this – more people will watch, gate receipts increase as well as interest on TV which in turn brings more money into the unions.
Will there ever be parity in popularity with the men’s game?
Maybe not for a long time but interest is certainly picking up, we’re regularly seeing International games now selling out in provincial stadia with crowds of 14000 plus for the women’s games. At some point the RFU would like to hold the Six Nations and other prestigious tournaments at Twickenham. This may be a tall order as this holds in excess of 80,000 spectators. With success comes interest from the media, with more eyes on the game comes more money and so the positive circle continues. I think we’re a long way away from parity however being fully professional makes it more likely.