BY STELLA MILLS
Days after announcing a financial support package for Scotland Women, Scottish Rugby has today unveiled its 2022 – 2026 Women and Girls strategy.
The overarching plan has a few notable points, the standout one being the level of proposed investment, which has nearly tripled from £1.6m in 2021/22 to £4.1m in 22/23. Interestingly, the four-year plan does not include specific monetary figures beyond next year, but it is understood that this is due to a level of flexibility being required in years to come regarding investment in the game.
The big jump in funding is proposed to cover seven “building blocks” that range from empowering leadership to developing the future of performance rugby.
The strategy has identified four strands, aptly named “The Four P’s”, that will come together to create a pathway for success in women’s rugby in Scotland. These are as follows: Participation, Pathway, Pipeline and Performance.
Interestingly, under the pipeline strand, the SRU have revealed limited details about a semi-professional competition that is to be established in conjunction with other partners. This competition would see the creation of semi-pro teams, to bridge the gap between domestic club and international level competition.
Currently most Scottish players, such as captain Rachel Malcolm, Jade Konkel and Rhona Lloyd play in England’s domestic league, the Allianz Premier 15’s. If the Scottish semi-professional competition is to rival the premier 15’s, and subsequently pull players away from something which is widely considered the best domestic league in the world, it would require heavy investment from the SRU.
At this stage, precise details are not known regarding the exact shape that the competition will take. What is clear, is that the idea is to create two new semi professional teams, with thirty players in each team. The plan mentions a “Proposed cross border competition in partnership with other unions”, but it is not yet clear what and how many other unions will be involved.
Scotland qualified for the Rugby World Cup in February after gaining a victory over Columbia, becoming the 12th and final team to qualify for the Rugby World Cup 2021.
A few days ago, Scottish Rugby outlined individual financial agreements with 36 players ahead of the RWC, continuing the approach already in place by building on the existing National Team Agreements. This means that players can train and fully prepare for the Rugby World Cup over the next eleven weeks.
Scotland Head Coach, Bryan Easson said: “To have the players training from Monday to Friday for 11 weeks will be hugely beneficial to our programme for the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, as we will be able to go into a lot more depth and detail in our on-field and off-field work than ever before.”
Looking beyond the RWC, SRU have committed to contracting a minimum of 30 players, which will continue the team’s journey towards professionalising the women’s game. Looking comparatively to other teams, such as England, the professionalisation of the squad seems like a logical step forward if the team are to develop.
A large section of the strategy is dedicated to increasing the number women within key roles such as coaches and officials. The wider plan has some bold yet achievable targets, with the SRU wanting to increase the number of women and girls’ players from 6,173 to 7,800 by 2026.
On this, Director of Rugby Development, Gav Scott: “We acknowledge the underrepresentation of women within coaching, officiating, volunteering and decision-making roles within clubs. This strategy will help us support the clubs to provide opportunities for women to get involved in these key roles and most importantly, we want to retain them and ensure that a correct pathway can help everyone get the most from our fantastic sport.”
In terms of female match officials, Scotland’s Hollie Davidson is leading the way. Davidson is set to create match official history on the 25 June when she becomes the first female to officiate a men’s Six Nations team in a Test match. Looking more broadly to the RWC, an all-female team of referees has been named to take charge of the competition, including Hollie Davidson.
Head of Women and Girls’ Strategy, Gemma Fay said: “We want to harness the current momentum we have seen post-pandemic in the women’s game and create long lasting, transformational change, allowing women and girl’s rugby to define its own unique identity within the rugby landscape in Scotland”