History is set to be made as the IRFU are expected to announce that 40-plus professional contracts will be offered to the Irish Women's Rugby 15s and Sevens squads. Only Sevens players had been contracted previously.
The news is reported in this morning's Irish Times. It is anticipated that the announcement will be made in advance of Ireland's two Test tour of Japan in August.
Ireland will follow in the footsteps of Wales, Scotland and Italy who have all offered professional contracts to their 15s players recently, making the Irish the last of the Six Nations teams to do so.
England became the first country to introduce professional contracts to women's 15s players back in 2016 with France doing so shortly after.
There is likely to be different payment bands for the Irish women's 15s, with a figure of around €30,000 expected to be at the higher end of the scale. The senior players in the Sevens squad currently earn €18,000 annually.
Confirmation of the contracts would mark a significant step forward for Irish Women's Rugby. Back in March the Union agreed to accept all thirty recommendations of an independent review conducted by Amanda Bennett from FairPlay Ltd in the wake of Ireland's failure to qualify for the Rugby World Cup.
The Union also announced that an additional €1 million would be allocated to the women's game growing the annual budget to €4 million and the creation of a new role of Head of Women’s Performance and Pathways, which is expected to be filled in the coming weeks.
The independent review and the acceptance of the recommendations was welcomed by the players group who late last year had raised significant concerns to both the government and Sport Ireland.
In a statement following the acceptance of the recommendations IRFU CEO Kevin Potts said:
“The announcement of these recommendations is just one milestone on a journey that has already commenced, with the work undertaken over the past number of months now beginning to yield visible results.
As part of the entire process, we have listened directly to the player’s concerns, and we understand their desire to see changes implemented that will address the issues which contributed to the failure to qualify for the Rugby World Cup and to further develop the women’s game and lay strong foundations and pathways for success in the future.
Indeed, we strongly share this desire.
“This independent review was commissioned to identify reasons for failure to qualify for the Rugby World Cup, areas for improvement and to inform meaningful action.
“We accept the recommendations in full; we are already acting upon them, many are already in place, and we believe that the implementation of the recommendations will form the basis of genuine long-term progress at the top end of our women’s game."
This is certainly a welcome development in order to take the women's game to the next level in this country.