Tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of England women’s victory in Rugby World Cup. I was lucky enough to be there on the day and it still stands as one of the most memorable days of my life. It was amazing to witness a generation of women many of whom had experienced the pain of defeat once before and a few who had experienced it twice.
If we look at the legacy left behind by that achievement in 2014 it is hard to deny there have not been huge inroads into the increase of participation of the sport. I don’t have full faith in the official figures but I still believe there is an increase in interest.
The myth that the England women’s team went professional on the back of the world cup win is another one that the press have lapped up and the RFU have been happy to “sex up”. The reality is the 7’s players have rightly been given contracts to allow them to train full time but this is more due to funding from the Olympic programme than any direct investment from the RFU. Let’s bear in mind the RFU is the richest union in the world by some way, and the rest of its women’s squad are still doing 10 or more training sessions a week, all of them unpaid while holding down full time jobs. Not much of a reward for a world cup win, when you compare it to the £200,000 per man world cup bonus and salary being offered to their male counterparts. This includes a £15,000 per match fee for players named in any match day 23 squad. This is only a few thousand less than the female 7s squad professionals will receive annually.
7’s is without doubt the biggest challenge the 15 aside game faces, you could see it in the recent Super Series in Canada. The 4 sides taking part all had their own player issues to address and Canada in particular were in a very difficult situation.
I am torn about the 7’s thing; I completely understand the reason why the RFU has pulled players from clubs this season. 15’s club training on the back of a very different and demanding 7’s programme which leads into an Olympic games is never going to be fair on players. Yes it’s difficult for clubs but they must be realistic in terms of what they would really get from these players this year anyway. Add into it that the RFU are their employer and as such they have made the decision and the clubs have to deal with it.
The 15 aside game has to look at 7’s as a great tool to introduce people to the game and also as a competitor it has to deal with. It has to sell the unique part of the 15 aside game of rugby union the inclusivity of it, the team aspect of it, the social aspect of the game.
The rugby world cup in England this year is going to go a long way towards introducing new players to the sport. The women’s game has create a strategy to go out and grab as many of those people as possible and try to build on the legacy of 2014 and grow the game. The women I have met through rugby have been some of the strongest and most inspiring people I have ever encountered. Rugby’s ethos builds self-confidence, creates unlikely heroes and everyone in it has a role to play and a place within the sport. In a society where so many people are searching for something to belong to. I would say rugby could offer a huge amount to anyone.
For now let’s just remember a performance a year ago that has already inspired a new generation to take up the sport, and an achievement that will hopefully be remembered for many years to come as one of English rugby’s greatest days.