Women’s rugby in England could be fully professional as early as this season, says Rugby Football Union (RFU) chief executive Steve Brown.
Contracts for England’s 15-a-side squad were controversially not renewed after the 2017 World Cup, with the RFU choosing to prioritise sevens.
The RFU then paid a match fee for the first time for autumns internationals.
“Our ambition is to professionalise both the XVs and sevens game during the coming season,” Brown told BBC Sport.
“We’ve had a half-and-half situation for the last couple of seasons but we will professionalise both games as quickly as we can possibly afford it.”
England women finished ninth at the Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco earlier this month after the RFU awarded 17 contracts to support the programme for the 2017-18 season.
“The sevens contracts was a compromise position,” said Brown.
“We want to get both of them fully established, but one key thing is we need to have enough players in the system to make it work which is why growing participation is so key, we need talent coming through.”
‘Not far away from fairly substantial sponsorship’
With the support of a title sponsor, the RFU launched the Premier 15s last season in a revamp of the top-flight women’s club rugby in England.
“It’s the first direct sponsorship of the women’s game,” added Brown. “But we have to re-prioritise something else to put money into the women’s game.
“Our commitment is to do that and find that money and this particular time means it’s just a bit tighter than it would normally be, but we’re not that far away from some fairly substantial sponsorship.”
What was the autumn pay deal?
For the three-Test series against Canada at the end of last year, England players secured a pay deal with the RFU understood to be worth between £4,000 and £5,000 in total for a player involved in all matches.
Players in the Elite Player Squad (EPS) would receive a squad training fee.
Under the terms of the deal, the players would not be salaried employees of the RFU, but would be paid when on England duty in the autumn, Six Nations, and summer tours.
The match fee for the women’s players is vastly lower than that received by their male counterparts, which can be explained by a variety of factors such as attendances and commercial reach.
A senior men’s international can make in excess of £22,000 per match, a bundle that also includes training fees and lucrative image rights.