In a letter seen by BBC Sport, Dr Rosena Allin Women’s Rugby World Cup -Khan tells chief executive Ian Ritchie of her “deep concern” Despite England preparing to defend the World Cup next month, the RFU said its focus will switch to the sevens game after the tournament. ”To make this decision is deeply disappointing,” wrote Allin-Khan.
“Asking players to pause and resume their professions every two years puts their futures at considerable risk.” Yet for those who have to juggle their sporting careers with full-time jobs, the run-up to a tournament can be as much a logistical challenge as it is a feat of physical endurance.
The Women’s Rugby World Cup starts in Ireland on Wednesday, and Wales are in the same pool as four-time champions New Zealand, previous runners-up Canada and Hong Kong. It is a daunting draw for a team who finished eighth at the 2014 World Cup and won just one of their five Six Nations fixtures this year.
For Wales’ players, however, just making the squad has been an enormous effort. Sian Williams and Charlie Murray are the only Welsh female rugby players to have signed professional deals, but neither are in this squad.
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Among the 28 making the trip to Dublin are an accountant, a teacher, a vet, one who works for a company which designs gambling machines, a farmer and a member of the army. Utility back Jodie Evans is a mental health nurse, working in the autistic and challenging behaviour unit at a hospital in Carmarthen.
Training with Wales means making several journeys a week to Cardiff, which can last an hour and a half each way. ”I’ll work a morning shift to train in the afternoon or work an afternoon or evening shift to train in the morning,” the 26-year-old says. ”My job is quite a lot of responsibility, so rugby is like a de-stress from work.
“It is hard to balance both but I’m lucky I’ve got a really supportive workforce and my manager is really understanding and has bent over backwards to make sure I can get to training. ”Sometimes you can leave the house at 6am and you won’t get home until 10:30 at night. They can be long days but I’ve made the squad and that’s the most important thing.”
Clearly, the trudge from Carmarthen to Cardiff can be a tiresome one. But the monotony of the M4 may seem merciful compared to the journey Jess Kavanagh-Williams faces from north Wales.
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The wing works as a community sport officer in Gwynedd, and has to drive to Cardiff – roughly four hours each way – up to three times a week. ”A lot of my time is spent on the A470,” Kavanagh-Williams says with wry laugh. ”I try to balance my personal life as well. It’s hectic but I manage. It’s all worth it.”
Playing rugby and the pride of representing your country is a release for those such as Kavanagh-Williams, though professional contracts for female players has been the subject of much debate lately. It was announced in July that full-time deals for England women’s 15-a-side squad will not be renewed after the World Cup despite the side being defending champions.
The Rugby Football Union said its focus will switch to the sevens game after the tournament, and the decision was met with criticism. The prospect of professional contracts for Wales’ women en masse seems remote at the moment, but Kavanagh-Williams lives in hope.
“People have been talking about it for a few years but nothing big has happened yet in Wales,” she adds. ”After what’s happened in England, I don’t know what the WRU [Welsh Rugby Union] is going to do. But it’s quite exciting for players starting in the game – it needs to be pushed now.” Wales start their campaign against New Zealand – who have won four of the seven Women’s Rugby World Cups – on Wednesday in Dublin.
Canada, runners-up three years ago in France, are next the following Sunday and debutants Hong Kong will be their final pool opponents. It has been dubbed the ‘group of death’ by some and, with only the three pool winners and the best runners-up qualifying for the semi-finals, there is little margin for error.
The odds are stacked against Wales, ranked 10th in the world, but the players have travelled to Ireland in high spirits. ”We’re in a good place at the moment, everyone’s feeling really positive,” says Kavanagh-Williams.
“We can’t hide the fact we’ve got a tough pool. Everyone knows where we’re at and we’re confident that we can compete with the best. After claiming their first Six Nations Grand Slam confidence is high in the England camp as they head towards Ireland to defend the Women’s Rugby World Cup.
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England’s 29-21 win over New Zealand back in June saw the Red Roses claim the International Women’s Rugby Series title after previous victories over Canada and Australia. The result of beating the Black Ferns lifted them to number one in the world rankings and firmly places England as pre-tournament favourites.
England are captained by Sarah Hunter and she admits their recent successes will count for little if they don’t deliver in Belfast and Dublin. ”We have got the title of world champions but that means nothing now, that competition has been and gone. Everyone starts from scratch and the slate is wiped clean.” she told World Rugby
“Any team that goes to the World Cup will be going there to be win it. We know there will need to be a step change in the level of performance that we need to take when we get to Ireland.” England are favourites to top Pool B where they will face Spain, Italy and the USA however Hunter isn’t leaving anything to chance.
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“It’s a cliché but we’ll take it one game at a time,” she said. “We will be looking at our first game against Spain as our first job in hand knowing that we’ll have to put our best performance out there to win that.”
Hunter, is preparing for her third Women’s Rugby World Cup and she feels this tournament will be the best and most competitive yet. “This is probably the most competitive World Cup I have been involved in, the standard of women’s rugby has grown and grown and grown. That’s brilliant.
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As an international player, you want every game to be competitive and to have to play at your best to get the result you need.I think it will be a fantastic showcase of the women’s game.” You can watch the Women’s Rugby World Cup live on ITV this August, starting with England’s game against Spain on ITV4 and the ITV hub next Wednesday from 1:30pm.