A new plan to fund England women’s rugby is being drawn up to bring the players in line with their male counterparts.
England face France in the semi-finals of the Women’s World Cup in Belfast tonight and, once the tournament is over, the Rugby Football Union will assess their options, with match fees central to a new pay structure.
The news that the women’s current full-time contracts - worth around £18,000 - were to end led to widespread criticism and, as a result, the RFU held preliminary talks with the Rugby Players’ Association to formulate a new policy.
Eddie Jones’ men’s squad receive a match fee - £22,000 per game - plus bonuses as part of a £20million, four-year deal. While the women will not be earning that kind of money, the principle of match fees is being examined as a way forward.
Nigel Melville, the RFU’s director of professional rugby, said: “Our goal is to have full-time contracts for XVs and sevens players but we haven’t got there yet in terms of money available to fund them.
“We are at an early stage. Hopefully, in the future, we will get to central contracts covering full World Cup cycles.”
RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie insisted that no one would be left jobless when the current system ends.
“We will make sure the players who have been on these contracts are looked after,” he said. “For the very small number of players whose futures are not already assured, we will make sure they are looked after.”
Post-World Cup, the RFU will switch their funding to support for the women’s sevens squad ahead of the Commonwealth Games and Sevens World Cup, with 17 full-time professional fixed-term deals set to be handed out in September.
England flanker Marlie Packer is set to win her 50th cap alongside back-row colleagues Alex Matthews and Sarah Hunter, with full-back Danielle Waterman making her fourth successive tournament start.
Lydia Thompson has recovered from a knee injury and replaces Amy Wilson-Hardy on the wing, while Harlequins centre Rachel Burford comes in for Amber Reed.
Like England, France swept through their group with a 100 per cent record and Hunter said: “France have been very impressive and always have a strong pack, so we know we have to be better than we have been. Hopefully, we can produce a good performance.”
New Zealand face the USA in today’s other semi-final, ahead of Saturday’s final.