RFU CEO Steve Brown has told RugbyPass that their women’s XVs players might be offered full time professional contracts by the start of the season. Following a disappointing Sevens Rugby World Cup in San Francisco, Brown confirmed that they will still be funding a women’s 7s programme but having lagged behind for so long, the XVs players may now be offered contracts too.
Brown said, “What we’re planning to do at the moment is continue with our 7s programmes, full time contracts. Our ambition, although we’re not quite there yet, is to have the same for XVs, so they are distinct professional contracts. It’s frankly down to money and affordability and making sure we’re in a position that we can invest in that. It’s at the top of our list and an absolutely key investment for us.
“The fastest growing participation is from the women’s game. That’s great because it’s growing a potential pipeline of players that can come through and then go and expand the professional end of it. So, it’s important that we get the top end right and design it right now, and our ambition is to do that as quickly as we possibly can. We’re in this period at the moment where we’re just looking at our financies and taking stock. We need to make sure that we’re making the right prioritisation call because something else has to give.”
When pressed about the timescales involved, Brown was optimistic suggesting, “Our ambition would be to get them done for this season. We just need to make sure we’re in the right shape to do that and there’s quite a key review and consideration of that taking place as we speak.”
England’s Women will play their next international matches in the Quilter series in November with confirmation of their opponents to be announced soon. The Women’s U20s will face Canada and the USA on tour to North America.
Meawnhile England’s most capped player Rochelle Clark has called time on her international career, 15 years after earning her first cap.
The 37-year-old made 137 international appearances, surpassing Jason Leonard’s previous record of 114 in November 2016, before going on to feature in her fourth Women’s Rugby World Cup last summer.
She retires as the world’s most capped women’s international, ahead of fellow Red Rose Tamara Taylor and former Scotland international Donna Kennedy, who both have 115 caps.
The Wasps loose-head prop made her England debut in 2003 and was awarded an MBE for Services to Rugby in the 2015 New Year’s Honours List, having been part of the Red Roses’ 2014 winning World Cup squad.
Clark, who has also played for Worcester Valkyries, will carry on playing club rugby at Wasps next season in the Tyrrells Premier 15s.
Over the course of her 137 tests, Clark scored 23 tries for the Red Roses, including one on her record-breaking 115th England appearance against Ireland in November 2016.
She said: “It’s with a heavy heart that I have decided it is time to retire from international rugby.
“To receive my first cap was a dream come true and it was with the same pride and hunger that I walked out a further 136 times for England. It was always an honour and a privilege to take to the pitch wearing the rose.
“I look back on my 15-year England career and think of the friends I have made and the opportunities we were given. I have shared some incredible experiences with so many great people.
“The highlight has to be winning the 2014 World Cup, made all the more special having come close twice before.
“To those who kept me going when times were tough and who made the experience so special, I want to say a huge thank you; all my friends and family, team mates, coaches and support staff.
“I have been incredibly lucky to wear the shirt through some major changes to the game, playing as both an amateur and professional. I am excited for the direction women’s rugby is headed and am proud of the contributions we made as players along the way.
“I look forward to continuing on the pitch with Wasps and in my career as a coach for Chesham Stags.”
Red Roses’ head coach Simon Middleton said: “Rocky Clark is a true legend of rugby. To have remained at the top of her game for 15 years is a remarkable achievement.
“She gave as much off the pitch as on, and is recognised by her team mates as one of the great leaders within the squad. She’s been an absolute inspiration to us and embodies everything a Red Rose should be.
“I speak on behalf of everyone to say that it has been an honour and a privilege to work with Rocky over the years.”
Clark, who is training as Level 4 coach, will continue in her role as head coach of Chesham Stags and as a personal trainer.
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