When the news came through that Scottish Rugby will be awarding a minimum of 30 pro rugby contracts to Scotland’s women players after the world cup, I felt a mixture of elation and relief.
The reason for the elation is obvious – this is a fantastic team and it’s great to see them getting at least the minimum support they deserve and that they need to stay competitive as professionalisation spreads across the women’s game.
And relief: as a fan who doesn’t always have a lot of faith in the SRU getting things right and had been worried Scotland might get left behind on professionalisation – at a time when getting left behind might have an impact for years to come.
So although the recent ambiguous messages from Scottish Rugby had me fearing the worst, it turns out there was actually a lot of reason to be hopeful.
First, the news came out that 36 women are being supported to basically go full time, or as close to it as their circumstances allow, in the build-up to the Rugby World Cup.
Then came the longer-term contract news, and because it has come well before the tournament, it hopefully allows the players to put in place personal arrangements before they travel so that there can be an easy transition to their new lives as contracted pro players when they return. And that hopefully removes any stress, anxiety or distraction that might have come from having an uncertain future.
We’ve had yet more support announced too, this time from the government, with funding for World
Cup logistics and campaigns to help promote the team, to connect them with and help to inspire girls and women playing in Scotland.
But the really key thing to me is that the timing gives the players several months as professionals
ahead of what could be the most important Women’s Six Nations for years, ahead of a transformational World Cup cycle culminating in the tournament in 2025.
It will be far from a disaster if Scotland finish in the bottom half of the Women’s Six Nations table in 2023. But pro status helps level the playing field a bit, giving them a good shot at reversing their three narrow away losses this year to Wales, Italy and Ireland and turning them into home wins. It’s fairly likely that winning all home games next year could see Scotland finish third.
And finishing third in 2023 could be a huge springboard for this team because it would get them into the top tier of the upcoming WXV competition.
This means for the next world cup cycle, they would be playing regularly against the world’s best teams. This could set the third-place Women’s Six Nations team up for years from a performance point of view. Being in the top tier will mean more exposure and higher profile, which will help raise more sponsorship
and longer-term ticket sales. Maybe there’s even a chance to bid to host the tournament too.
WXV should be great for the women’s game in general – in whatever tier the team places – but there
is definitely an incentive to finish as high as possible in the table next year.
It’s also great that there is a full world cup cycle of professionalism before what is shaping up to be a
huge 2025 World Cup in England. It will almost certainly see bigger and better TV coverage than ever
before, and huge crowds, with the RFU aiming to sell out Twickenham for the final. If Scotland can
perform well at the tournament, they will be visible more girls and young women than ever before,
inspiring more people into playing and supporting the women’s game.
If I had one slight qualm with the strategy, it was that the ambition for the team wasn’t as high as I
have for them as an over-excited fan. Targets of finishing 4th in the Women’s Six Nations by 2024 and
a world ranking of 8th by 2026 feel achievable for next year with this announcement. But at the same
time, the new structures could take time to have an impact and I do understand the appeal of not
putting too much pressure on the team to achieve certain metrics instantly. I hope internal
ambitions are higher.
But whatever results come – whether this increased investment catapults the team into the top tier
of women’s rugby teams or leads to more incremental progress – it’s really exciting knowing that the
team will be competing with proper investment and support from Scottish Rugby to achieve their
potential. And it is a huge relief that we are not being left behind at a vital moment in the growth of