We get views on what needs to happen leading into RWC 2025

What next for women’s rugby?

As the curtain comes down on a record-breaking Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, eyes inevitably turn to the next global showpiece in 2025.

A record crowd of 42,579 was at Eden Park to see the Black Ferns become world champions while another 1.2m people watched the final on Three, New Zealand’s free-to-air broadcaster.

England will stage the next tournament in three years’ time, with organisers targeting an 82,000 sellout at Twickenham for the final. It will also expand from 12 to 16 teams, and the hope is that the quarter-finals will be more competitive than this year’s.

So how does the game ensure that? How does it build on the momentum of the recent event in New Zealand? And how does it work towards making the women’s World Cup profitable (at present it operates at a loss)?

A new global women’s tournament, WXV, will launch next year that aims to give teams more Test matches, particularly important for the non-Six Nations countries, while unions will also be encouraged to match funding from World Rugby to deliver much-needed investment and resources to women’s programmes.

While in New Zealand for the World Cup, Rugby World spoke to players, coaches and administrators from different bodies and countries to get their views on the future of the women’s game.

What next for women’s rugby?

Bill Beaumont, World Rugby chairman

“If you don’t invest, you don’t get a return. It costs money but that’s what we’re here for, that’s what World Rugby is about. Every union has to invest as well, we can’t do it in isolation.”

Bill Sweeney, RFU chief executive

“I think people have been surprised how this tournament has gone. All the other unions have been here and they’ve seen the effect that a successful women’s game can have. So I think they will step up now. Wales have professional contracts, Scotland are just about to, France are on them, so I think you’ll see other unions starting to invest.

“We all want that. We want a competitive Six Nations. You want meaningful games because that will help us on the broadcast and commercial side and enable us to reinvest money back into the game.

“There’s only three years to go (until the next World Cup in England), it’s not the normal four-year cycle. We’ll fill Twickenham. We’ll get 82,000 people there for the final and hopefully for the semi-final as well. I’m confident we’ll do that. The game is growing in appeal now.

“Watching that match (the final) you didn’t feel it was a women’s rugby match. It was a competitive, highly intense sporting event. In many respects it was probably more entertaining than the men’s game. So we’re not concerned about being able to fill Twickenham.”

Sally Horrox, World Rugby director of women’s rugby

“We talked about a ‘pathway to professionalism’ as a priority for development. We were in Australia in August and September, and saw the way in which Fijiana had come into and won Super W. Super Rugby Aupiki, we had conversations here about how they might collaborate and what they’re doing in New Zealand has been really interesting.

“We’re really alive to those conversations about how, across the regions, across the world, and domestically, we can help advance that pathway – ideally at a domestic level. What you want is these women and girls playing rugby week in, week out.

“But it’s the unions’ responsibility to do that, our job to support them. If we can do that we will. If we can help provide more cross-border competition, in the way that Fijiana entered into Super W, we will. I think we have to be quite creative to achieve what we want to achieve if we’re going to close the gap. It is a priority.”

Wayne Smith, New Zealand director of rugby

“I never thought in 100 years that we’d be standing out in the middle of Eden Park and 40,000 people would be chanting ‘Black Ferns’. Something has ignited this country around women’s rugby and we’ve got to make it count.

“We’ve got to make it count with seven-year-olds, eight-year-olds, nine-year-olds, ten-year-olds, who all play Rippa rugby, but when they go to high school, there’s no team or no coach, and they will go play other sports.

“They might come back into it… but many won’t and that’s what we’ve got to get right.”

Sarah Hunter, England No 8

“You can’t expect nations now not to go and invest in their teams when you have got a showcase of women’s rugby in a final in front of 40,000 people.

“Hopefully that will ignite other nations to go, ‘We need to invest in our women’s game and make it a fair playing field’.”

Tyson Beukeboom, Canada second-row

“We want to perform so people keep looking at us and think, ‘They deserve this’. We know we deserve it, we know we’re the best rugby programme in Canada, but definitely if there’s that performance you’re able to ask for things and we’ve performed pretty consistently at the last three World Cups.

“I’d love centralisation to happen, for us to have a home base and everyone to be there. It’s hard at this point to imagine it being full-time but even for chunks of the year for us to centralise and be together would be beneficial, then hopefully a pro league in North America too.”

Scott Fava, Australia assistant coach

“There’s so much more we can do with this group and the next group of girls coming through as well. The challenge is that so many are looking at overseas opportunities. We’re on the cusp of professionalism and helping this group with the transition from semi-professional to professional is something I want to be part of.

“We need to start seeing 16- to 18-year-olds choose rugby union instead of league, AFL or soccer. That would give us momentum and increase depth within the Super W teams, then with that we’d have a better Wallaroos squad coming into 2025. By 2029 if we’re a professional unity, all those 12-year-old girls watching now will be ready to go.

“We need it (professionalism) by 2025 for us to compete as Wallaroos, for that whole year at least, and to be professional enough for girls to make a good living. It’s making sure ends meet and players are comfortable training full-time. That’s where we need to get to.

“I’d like to see the Wallaroos be on par (with the sevens team). They (sevens) lead the way and they are the flagship because of their success. That success brings more girls into the game, right across the board.”

Megumi Abe, Japan scrum-half

“Men’s rugby is getting pretty popular (in Japan), but women’s not so much. Having better results is important. Unless we’re able to do that we won’t have more players who want to play rugby in the first place, who look up to rugby.”

Evelyn Ashenbrucker, USA second-row

“There’s no reason why a country as sport-heavy as America can’t be a destination for the top players in the world. It’s just getting the investment, the support; it does just come down to money.

“We (San Diego Surfers) played a curtain-raiser before an MLR men’s game in New York and the stands were almost full, it was amazing. It shows if we make it available, if we can get into stadiums, people want to come and bring their kids. They want to watch, it’s making it easy to consume that product because people enjoy it when there.

“We have to make it easier for players. I do think with major financial investment, if they ever get that for the domestic game, there are hundreds to thousands of young, strong, athletic women who will really thrive and make US rugby great. It’s getting them the support and development they need.”

Laurian Johannes-Haupt, South Africa coaching intern

“Before we left South Africa, we’d already had more girls seeing matches and wanting to be involved in the game, especially Cape Town. Hopefully going forward we’ll see more games on TV, so girls see players.

“We have a training centre system run by SARU, so each union has a structure of U15, U16 and U18 girls playing. Girls play in their school, but if there’s no team at their school, the union advises them where to get playing opportunities for girls.

“Hopefully in the future rugby will be in all schools and not taboo. We still get some comments like ‘women belong in the kitchen’ and need to get rid of it.”

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