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Akito Iwamoto/INPHO Ireland Women in action against Japan during the summer.
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29 Irish women's players take up contract offers worth €15k to €30k
The IRFU has also confirmed the launch of a new women’s Celtic Cup competition.

LAST UPDATE | Oct 27th 2022, 5:03 PM

IRFU PERFORMANCE DIRECTOR David Nucifora has confirmed that 29 Irish women’s players have accepted contracts, with eight players turning down offers from the union.

The new contracts for women’s rugby will range in value from €15,000 to €30,000 per season, while players will receive additional bonuses for match appearances, wins, and tournament fees.

All players on IRFU contracts will train full-time at the union’s high performance centre in Dublin.

The 29 players who have taken up contracts include dual 7s and 15s internationals, several of whom had already been on IRFU deals before this season.

Nucifora also confirmed that a new women’s Celtic Cup competition will take place in January and February, with one Irish team playing against Scottish and Welsh sides.

The plan is for two Irish sides to be involved in the second year of that competition, and potentially four Irish teams further down the line.

As expected, some players have opted against taking up IRFU contracts. Given that many players are already employed outside rugby, this was always likely to be very tough decisions for some.

However, 29 of the 37 contract offers have been concluded successfully, according to Nucifora, who outlined why four England-based players had opted against signing deals.

Nucifora said that players based in England earn somewhere between €3,000 and €10,000 for playing in the Premier 15s competition.

“One, they have a contractual obligation but also they also made a decision that they would stay and play their rugby there this year,” said Nucifora.

“The other four players [based in Ireland] are players that are not surprising to us. Just the age bracket of players… we have produced a model that has come on in a very short period of time. Those other women have got jobs, they are committed to their careers which is understandable.

“We fully understand that you have financial obligations that don’t permit you to be able to take up those contracts. We could have just not offered contracts to the ones that we thought wouldn’t take it up, but we have given people a choice, an option.

irelands-david-nucifora Billy Stickland / INPHO IRFU performance director David Nucifora. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“When you look at the facts behind it is no surprise to us that those earning significant amounts or who have careers have a choice not to train full-time in a professional scenario.

“But what they do have is a model that will cater for them to keep playing the game at the highest level. They will be able to play for the clubs either in England or in Ireland and they will be able to train in a programme that suits their lifestyle at that point in time.

“It was always our intention to come up with a model that works like that.”

The €15,000 to €30,000 value for these contracts will spark plenty of debate. When the English RFU first handed out women’s contracts, they were reportedly worth around €35,000 on average.

The IRFU had already been contracting female 7s players on deals ranging from €8,000 up to €18,000.

In the Irish men’s game, academy players are believed to earn €8,000 per season, while young players advancing onto their first professional contracts can earn €40,000 and upwards. 

Official confirmation of the new Celtic Cup competition will add to fears among the All-Ireland League clubs that they will become increasingly sidelined, particularly now that all of Ireland’s contracted players will be training full-time in Dublin.

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Nucifora indicated that the IRFU sees the AIL as being part of the development pathway, rather than where the leading Irish players feature.

“With regards to club competition, there is a lot of work being done looking at how we try and raise the standard there, but that’s not going to happen overnight,” said Nucifora. “That’s going to take time.

“The work that will go into creating a pipeline in the Women’s National Talent Squad when that gets up and running, that will benefit and feed the system of women’s rugby in Ireland.

“We also have to keep in mind that World Rugby dictates our competition structure. When the new [international] Women’s XVs competition starts next year, that will fall in the window when the Women’s AIL runs. You are going to have the best players not available during that period.

railway-union-lift-the-trophy-as-all-ireland-champions Ben Brady / INPHO Railway Union won the women's AIL last season. Ben Brady / INPHO / INPHO

“So therefore the season looking forward, internationally, you will have Women’s XV sitting there in September and October, you’ll have a Celtic Cup growing in size, whether there is an inter-provincial competition somewhere, we have to make sure that part of the game gets taken out of participation and into high performance. Then it will start to serve a purpose to raise the standard.

“Celtic Cup will lead into the Women’s Six Nations.

“The AIL’s role will be to house those developing players coming through and give them competition. I can’t see the Women’s AIL being what the English Premiership is, that’s not our model, that is not going to work here. We have to do it differently. There is no quick fix other than giving it time, effort and structure that will build it.

“If you are looking at September through to the end of the Women’s Six Nations there is a significant number of high-end competitions evolving that should be attractive for anyone who wants to play in that for a season.”

Nucifora also announced that former Connacht and Fiji men’s head coach John McKee has now joined the Ireland Women programme full-time after being involved in last summer’s tour of Japan.

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