It’s eleven weeks since I attempted to read the runes about next season’s pro-contracts for the Red Roses. They are due next month. A window in November has opened for a resumption of hostilities. We may yet see the 2020 Six Nations completed, but in the meantime, what about those contracts?
The news about the English Sevens players’ contracts was disturbing. We must hope and pray that the Fifteens squad doesn’t suffer a similar fate.
Now that the management have had over a year’s experience of maintaining a full-time professional squad, they should know the best policy for its ongoing prosperity. Is it stability, uniformity, familiarity? Or is it constant renewal? Will they be as willing as last time to axe players from the group?
If it is the former, then make minimal changes to the line-up. Stick to the tried and trusted.
If the latter, then delay the announcement till the future takes on a definite shape; take a sober look at the early rounds of a new Premier 15s season before deciding.
But that would need the existing contracts to be adjusted. A new understanding would have to be reached with every player.
Settling on the total number will be a complex affair. Currently it is 28, but the permitted size of a World Cup squad is 30. And the money has to be found. So while everyone would like to see that total raised into the thirties – closer to England’s women cricketers who are looking at 40 – it may prove impossible.
Many uncontracted players have represented England over the past season: Abby Dow, Amelia Harper, Detysha Harper, Heather Kerr, Rownita Marston, Harriet Millar-Mills, Ellena Perry and Mia Venner. Might some of them be offered terms?
And more players were called into the 6N training squad: Rowena Burnfield, Morwenna Talling, Emily Underwood and Millie Wood.
Stability or Constant Renewal?
If the management opt for stability, then we might expect to see those minimal adjustments to the existing list. That category could include Abby Dow, now her studies are behind her, and Harriet Millar-Mills, who both have proven track records.
The other approach could involve discarding unlucky players who are found surplus to requirements.
It is a serious business. The Red Roses remain the only female rugby players in the world to enjoy full-time professional status. There is the distinct possibility that the RFU will feel it can’t continue its largesse on the present level. If that is so, then they would have to choose between a small number of unwelcome possibilities, like reducing the size of individual payments; reducing the total number of contracted players; or instituting a system closer to the French or Kiwi model, where rugby would become a part-time occupation again.
Once a player loses her contract, she needs to find a job pronto. That is why both France and New Zealand have chosen the half-and-half approach: a player has a career available, should her (paid) playing days end suddenly.
How can the Sevens Players stay active?
Jodie Ounsley’s signing for Sale Sharks marks a step-change for England’s Sevens players. They have been separated off for such a long time that we have almost forgotten the clubs they come to.
Assuming these club affiliations are still correct, how likely are any of the squad to switch back temporarily to Fifteens?
Holly Aitchison (Waterloo), Abbie Brown (Bristol), Abi Burton (Gloucester-Hartpury), Heather Fisher (Gloucester-Hartpury?), Deborah Fleming (Saracens), Sydney Gregson (Saracens), Meg Jones (Loughborough), Ellie Kildunne (Gloucester-Hartpury), Alex Matthews (Richmond), Celia Quansah (Loughborough), Helena Rowland (Saracens), Emma Uren (Saracens), Beth Wilcock (Harlequins) and Amy Wilson Hardy (Wasps).
Two of them, Aitchison and Matthews, would face the extra dilemma of rejoining a club relegated to the Championship. No doubt Premier 15s clubs would love to sign them on to dispute games as and when they are allowed. If things worked out like this, England would be following in New Zealand’s footsteps. Fifteen Black Ferns Sevens players are busying themselves in the Farah Palmer Cup, due to start next month. The problem for 7s players is the lack of alternatives to the World Series.
The 2019-20 Prem 15s season was deemed null and void, so everyone will be looking at a completely fresh start. Will the Red Roses have a completely fresh look?
Here’s a reminder of the 28 contracted players:
Abbie Scott (Harlequins)
Amber Reed (Bristol)
Amy Cokayne (Harlequins)
Bryony Cleall (Saracens)
Catherine O’Donnell (Loughborough)
Claudia Macdonald (Wasps)
Emily Scarratt (Loughborough)
Emily Scott (Harlequins)
Hannah Botterman (Saracens)
Jess Breach (Harlequins)
Katy Daley-Mclean (Sale)
Kelly Smith (Gloucester-Hartpury)
Lagi Tuima (Harlequins)
Lark Davies (Loughborough)
Leanne Riley (Harlequins)
Lydia Thompson (Worcester)
Marlie Packer (Saracens)
Natasha Hunt (Gloucester-Hartpury)
Poppy Cleall (Saracens)
Sarah Beckett (Harlequins)
Sarah Bern (Bristol)
Sarah Hunter (Loughborough)
Sarah McKenna (Saracens)
Shaunagh Brown (Harlequins)
Vickii Cornborough (Harlequins)
Vicky Fleetwood (Saracens)
Zoe Aldcroft (Gloucester-Hartpury)
Zoe Harrison (Saracens=