Former England rugby captain Catherine Spencer has called on the Rugby Football Union to modernise the women’s game if England are to have any chance of retaining their World Cup title in 2017.
Despite a 51 per cent increase in participation at grassroots level over the last 18 months, concerns remain about the state of the Women’s Premiership after several failed attempts to attract big-money sponsorship.
And Spencer, who retired from the game in 2011, believes the RFU have not done enough to develop women’s rugby in this country following England’s Women’s World Cup success last year.
Kate Newton of Bristol Ladies and Claire Purdy of Wasps give their thoughts on the state of the eight team Women’s Premiership.
“I don’t think enough has been done,” she told Tuesday’s Sportswomen show on Sky Sports News HQ.
“In the Six Nations immediately following [the Women’s Rugby World Cup success] England actually had their worst ever result in the tournament, when there were more eyes on the women’s team and new audiences that may have tuned in to watch the women for the first time. I don’t think it was good enough.
“The level just below England, the Premiership – which is elite level rugby – severely lacks funding and sponsorship at the moment, and as a consequence it lacks media interest as well.”
“I would personally like to see it run externally and more commercially and to see a big brave sponsor come in and sponsor the Premiership as a whole.”
“We are seeing participation rises at grassroots level and we are seeing a rise in profile at elite level and England level. We just need to build better in between both levels I think.”
Part of England’s decline in the 15-a-side format has been attributed to the fact that 20 players were reassigned to the Sevens team to help the side qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympics.
Steve Martin, CEO of PR agency M&C Saatchi Sport and Entertainment – who have devised a number of rugby marketing campaigns – believes the RFU have missed the chance to capitalise on the momentum behind women’s rugby.
“We’ve seen a lot of the individual players do really well [after the World Cup],” he said.
“I think they [the RFU] need to realign and focus on the 15-a-side game. That is their core product, Sevens isn’t. I feel the focus should be on the 15-a-side game and aligning lot better with the clubs which will then give it a better commercial opportunity.”
RFU head of women’s development Nicola Ponsford insists every effort has been made to try and commercialise women’s rugby and says the immediate focus is on improving quality from the bottom up.
“Sponsorship is something that the RFU is chasing as a whole,”
“The commercial department work very hard to try and find sponsors for the women’s game it’s not for the want of trying.
“The feeling that we have at the moment is that our infrastructure needs to be right. We need to make sure that the product we are going to produce week-in week-out is of a really good quality because that will help get us onto a commercial platform. We have to make sure that what we put out on TV is something that people want to watch.”
“There is now a lot more communication between the RFU and clubs and a lot more interaction between coaches at the elite level and at club level, which is really good for the development of the players.” she said.
“But unfortunately, the fact remains we are trying to function at a professional standard in terms of facilities and our medical team and coaching team, but the funding that we are given does not quite marry up with that just yet.
“But there have been improvements and things are definitely moving in the right direction.”