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Author Topic: English women's club rugby players to be paid for the first time  (Read 179 times)

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From The Telegraph by Kate Rowan
3 September 2019 • 7:00am

Female players at English rugby clubs are being paid to play for the first time, Telegraph Sport can reveal, in a move which has echoes of the men’s game's transition to professionalism in 1995.

Saracens and Worcester will be paying players from this season while Harlequins are supporting members of their squad through covering accommodation costs.

Reigning Premier15s champions Saracens are paying retainers to some players including all those who are contracted centrally by the Rugby Football Union, as part of an ambitious development plan, while all members of the matchday squad will receive fees.

Telegraph Sport understands that the Saracens contracts are in the region of £12,000 - £15,000 while the fee per match is thought to be somewhere around £200-250 per match. Worcester Warriors Women who have finished bottom the previous two seasons are offering match fees of £150 - £250 depending on experience.

These ground-breaking pay to play deals at club level come just nine months after the RFU reintroduced full-time contracts for 28 players.

Saracens director of women’s sport Laura Eddie believes that the injection of money into the women’s game is similar to what happened in the men’s game almost 25 years ago but expects there to be benefits of hindsight.

“This could be women’s rugby’s 1995 but we are in a good position that we can learn a lot of lessons from that cross over, that is why we want to be smart about how we spend our money,” she said. “It is about that long term vision of developing the staff and infrastructure and making sure the players are well looked after.”

Saracens and England full-back Sarah McKenna acknowledged that the financial offering is relatively small but believes it is a move towards a fully professional league such as football’s Women’s Super League.

“We are at very early stages of our professional development, people are getting very excited. We have to be aware that the retainer and match fees is not going to cover huge amounts but it is a step in the right direction towards even more professionalisation,” she said.

While McKenna can afford to be a full-time rugby player as she would earn between £24,000 and £28,000 from the RFU on top of her Saracens contract, the availability of these deals means that players outside the international elite can start to see a professional career as a reality.

“The fact is, we weren’t even talking about this three years ago, it could be a possibility in the future that people won’t need those jobs outside rugby. If this is the first step who is to say is to say what could happen in a few years time,” McKenna said.

Eddie adds: “This is our first year doing this, our aspiration would be to support as many players as we possibly can with retainers and it will be an evolution. It comes back to sustainability, if we can retain and recruit a team that is performing on the pitch people are going to want to come and watch and that will be invested back into the club.

“Agents are slowly starting to creep in but it is not as prevalent as where we will be in five or ten year’s time.”

In April Telegraph Sport broke the news that Saracens, along with Bristol Bears, were offering players contracts that would see them tied to the club for the duration of the season with benefits such as increased medical and strength and conditioning provision, as well as providing the likes of nutrition supplements.

Despite now offering pay to play Worcester have not contracted players and they will be free to change clubs during season as other Premier 15s players are able to do. Worcester have been rebranded as Worcester Warriors Women from Worcester Valkyries due to increased alignment with the men’s side with increased investment coming from the clubs’ owners.

The Premier15s was founded at the start of 2017 with crisp manufacturer Tyrrell’s as the title sponsor. Despite the positive of pay to play, there could be fears that an uneven playing field could develop.

Clubs aligned to men’s Premiership outfits are likely to have the best chance of becoming professional as the examples of Saracens and Worcester show and Exeter Chiefs yesterday announced the formation of a professional women’s side, which will tender for a place in next season’s Premier15s. The promotion and relegation criteria will not be based on-field performance but minimum standards such as health, strength and conditioning as well as contingency for media and marketing.

Harlequins’ players do not have contracts but were the first club to align closely to their men’s side with Paul Gustard taking the women for a training session last season, while players have full access to the same facilities as the men’s Premiership side at the Surrey Sports Park in Guildford.

Quins were also the first club to promote their women’s side in billboards alongside their male players. While not paid, the club provides accommodation in many cases and actively helps players seek employment opportunities.

Telegraph Sport understands that there are varying opinions within the game regarding how soon a salary model similar to the WSL could be implemented. Some insiders believe it could get to a point where players are offered £30,000 contracts within three years while others think it could take a decade.
'People will take us more seriously now'

Being paid is great, but professional support in the gym can take us to next level, says England and Saracens full-back Sarah McKenna

When people ask me what my job is and I say “rugby”, they still look at me like it is a hobby and I have to explain that it is my profession, it is my work. I am centrally contracted by England and also have a contract with Saracens, where I now earn a retainer and match fees.

It takes time for people on the outside to understand, but more and more women are starting to have rugby as a career. When you are earning money playing, people take you more seriously.

I would not have seen this change happening in clubs three or four years ago. But, as the league is so competitive, it means that clubs have to bring in new ways to beat one another. That is the way it is going, they are investing in it and this is how Sarries see a way to compete for more titles.

It is not only the financial support that is important with this. There is the medical aspect and strength and conditioning. Previously, people were spending their own money on physios or paying for a trainer at the gym. If you wanted to take the step up to the next level, players would often pay for time with a trainer one on one. Paying for gym memberships is quite a normal thing; it is something now that the girls no longer have to think about.

The financial element also helps with things people on the outside might not think about, such as the cost of getting to training. That would have been a worry for people before because you travel an hour-and-a-half or two hours to get to the club.

It is another big positive.

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Women’s rugby | Pay to play Q&A

Why have clubs taken this step to pay players?

With competition increasing, it is a move to entice and keep the best players. Saracens have lost just one member of the England Elite Player Squad ahead of this season – prop Ellena Perry to Gloucester-Hartpury.

What contractual obligations do players have to meet to get paid?

At Saracens, players have to attend two training sessions per week while also fulfilling a minimum requirement of gym work. At Worcester, players will have to have an attendance of 75 per cent at training sessions while also attending the two training sessions of the week of the match they are selected for, in order to earn fees.

Will players still be able to have jobs?

Yes. Outside of the 28 players contracted on a full-time basis by the RFU, players will still be able to keep their jobs.

Are other clubs likely to follow suit?

Yes. Telegraph Sport is aware of other clubs making moves to pay players. Exeter Chiefs have described their side, which will tender for a Premier15s set up as “professional”. Other clubs with affiliations to universities such as Gloucester-Hartpury and Loughborough Lightning entice young players with scholarships and accommodation.

Is this sustainable?

Saracens believe it can be if matches are marketed as a stand-alone product away from the men. Harlequins have taken the approach to fully integrate the women with the men in terms of training facilities and use of coaches and create a fan base at the Stoop rather than contracting players professionally.

Do all the Premiership sides have a women’s team?

No. Leicester Tigers, Northampton Saints and Sales Sharks do not have women’s sides. Wasps Ladies, despite building more ties with the Coventry-based men, are affiliated with amateur Wasps FC in Acton. London Irish and Exeter Chiefs are the only two men’s franchises not to have their women’s sides in the top flight.

Will this create an uneven playing field?

Yes. Particularly for sides such as Waterloo, Richmond and Darlington Mowden Park Sharks who do not have any affiliations with men’s franchises, and have struggled in the first two seasons of the Premier15s.

Brown Bottle

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Saracens will be looking at arranged marriages soon.
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They probably have a clandestine breeding programme in which Nigel Wray sets up a company to fund the development of the progeny from foetus to academy player before writing off the cost.



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