A survey of the world’s elite women’s players raises concerns about the future of 15s

Top women’s rugby players call for more Tests

The world’s top women’s players believe there needs to be more 15-a-side Tests and tournaments if the game is to continue to grow globally.

That’s the key finding from a survey conducted by International Rugby Players (IRP) and involving more than 250 international women’s players – from countries who compete in the 15s World Cup and on the Sevens Series.

Three-quarters of those who took part believe there are not enough 15-a-side games or competitions and 68% feel there is now more focus on sevens. Yes, there’s the World Cup and Six Nations, but some countries play very few Tests between the global tournaments and fixtures can be quite ad hoc.

England have regularly played autumn Tests, but that has not been true of other Six Nations teams – Ireland played their first November International as recently as 2015 – although it is improving. Australia have rarely played in between World Cups and recently welcomed back-to-back Tests against New Zealand.

Some fear the gap between the world’s top teams and those below will widen without regular tournaments. One player said: “All nations should have more opportunities to play Tests. For all to be competitive, they need more matches.”

IRP Welfare Manager Isaac Boss says: “Players feel that while some unions have been quick to acknowledge the growth in the women’s game, they need to step up and match that with more investment and increased 15s competition, if they want to keep those programmes alive.”

Tied in with the concerns around 15s is the fact 76% don’t think their unions are doing enough to promote the women’s game. One positive move this season is English and Irish clubs playing double headers with men’s teams, which should take the sport to a wider audience.

Top women’s rugby players call for more Tests

Big stage: Harlequins will play Bristol in the Premier 15s at the Stoop (Getty Images)

For example, Harlequins face Bristol in the Tyrrells Premier 15s at the Stoop on 15 September after the men’s Gallagher Premiership match against Bath, while UL Bohemian play Highfield after the equivalent men’s fixture two weeks later.

Of the players surveyed, 40% can live off their income from rugby and 52% play both sevens and 15s. Only 4% of those questioned have children, with 45% saying their rugby career had influenced their decision to have kids.

One player said: “I’d like to see more done to support women who have given birth and returned to the game. New Zealand is a progressive model. What can be done to allow women more paid opportunities to play, coach or ref?”

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