English rugby bosses have defended their decision to terminate the contracts of the nation’s 15-a-side women’s team after next month’s World Cup in Ireland.
The Rugby Football Union (RFU) have confirmed there will be a change in emphasis towards the Sevens game following the World Cup, with new XVs contracts subsequently being awarded in preparation for the 2021 edition.
There are currently around 50 full-time and part-time XVs contracts, a number which is set to be reduced by over half in September and focus solely on the Sevens programme.
“The women’s squad were always aware that contracts would end in September, after the World Cup,” said RFU director of professional rugby Nigel Melville.
“The current XVs squad was informed in April that the next contracts will be focused on Sevens, reflecting the cyclical nature of the women’s game. The squad fully understands the position and are focused on the World Cup in Ireland next month.”
The RFU’s decision has drawn criticism from several quarters, especially with England reigning world champions having won the tournament for the first time in 20 years in 2014.
It also comes at a time of increased attention on women’s sport. England won the Women’s Cricket World Cup on Sunday with a tense nine-run victory over India at Lord’s, while the Lionesses are performing well at football’s European Championship.
“It’s a shame for the sport that it’s not going to be moving forward. Why can’t the focus be on both disciplines? They are two totally different games,” said former international Vicky MacQueen, who was capped 34 times for England between 2004 and 2009.
“It’s a bit of a backward step. Those contracted girls have been fully focused on rugby, they are now going to have to balance it with their jobs again.”
Retired World Cup winner Maggie Alphonsi described the move as “very disappointing”, while Barbara Keeley, MP for Worsley and Eccles South, referred to it as “a shameful decision”.