England captain Hunter defends RFU women’s pay cut

Sarah Hunter has 134 England caps
Venue: Ashton Gate, Bristol Date: 14 September Kick-off: 19:30 BST
Coverage: Live text commentary on BBC Sport website and app.

England captain Sarah Hunter has defended the Rugby Football Union’s decision to halve women’s match fees for World Cup warm-up fixtures.

Players usually receive £800 per Test, but are playing the United States and Wales for £400 per game in September.

Players’ union the Women’s Rugby Association (WRA) called the RFU decision “disappointing”.

But Hunter hailed the RFU’s investment in the women’s game, saying players agreed to the cut in advance.

The lower match fee was agreed by the players after discussions between the Rugby Players Association (RPA) and the RFU.

“We agreed to it. We signed our contract months ago so that we wouldn’t have to have conversations around match fees,” said Hunter, whose side face Wales in Bristol on Wednesday.

“We just want to focus on the game on Wednesday then the World Cup, not on what the match fees are, what they could be or what they should be.

“Our focus is purely on our next game.”

England, whose World Cup campaign in New Zealand begins against Fiji on 8 October, became the first union to offer full-time contracts to their women’s XVs side in 2019.

Despite record-breaking crowds during the 2022 Women’s Six Nations, the RFU continues to run the team at a loss.

Players now receive between £26,000 and £33,000 per year for their England involvement.

The RFU told BBC Sport that match fees “vary across Test matches and tournaments” and “all 36 players in camp receive this fee, not just the matchday 23”.

It is understood the RFU has increased the value of contracts by about 15-20% in the past year, with the vast majority of the union’s revenue still coming from men’s Tests at Twickenham.

England’s men are not centrally contracted, but get a match fee of about £17,000.

Asked whether similar discussions around match fees would take place with the men’s side before their World Cup in 2023, the RFU said: “Contract information is commercially sensitive and we don’t disclose financial details as they are confidential.”

The WRA said the women’s fee change was “disappointing given the current success and recent achievements of the Red Roses”.

Should the women’s side beat Wales on Wednesday, they will become the first team to win 25 Tests in a row.

They are ranked number one in the world and go into October’s World Cup as favourites.

A WRA statement added: “We hope this is resolved in a timely manner to ensure all focus can be on the preparations for Rugby World Cup 2021 [being played in 2022].”

In football, England men’s and women’s senior players have been paid the same match fees and bonuses for representing their country since 2020.

Asked if she would like to see this in rugby, Hunter said: “Not to sound like a stuck record, I’m sure those conversations will happen.

“New contracts will happen. You’ve just got to look at what the RFU has done for investment in the women’s game. It is more than anyone else on and off the pitch.

“I’m sure those negotiations on match fees will be done with the RFU, with the players and with the RPA to come to some agreement that everyone is happy with.

“We’re just here to play rugby and those conversations will be taken up in the next contractual talks.”

The RPA told BBC Sport it “entered into discussions with the RFU” about raising the match fee “to Test match levels”.

It said: “After consulting with senior players it was agreed by all parties that the main focus should be on World Cup preparation at this time.”

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