The IRFU have officially confirmed it will offer 43 professional contracts to Ireland women's 15s and 7s players next season.
The prospective contracts have been benchmarked internationally and are said to be worth up to €30,000 plus match fees and bonuses.
Prior to this, Ireland were the only Nation competing in the Women's Six Nations without some sort of contracts. The news follows the appointment of Gillian McDarby as the Head of Women's Performance and Pathways.
McDarby will be responsible for the development, delivery, and implementation of the approved strategic and operational direction of the women’s rugby performance programme for both XVs and Sevens. She will be responsible for developing a cohesive player pathway that connects and feeds the needs of both national programmes.
McDarby was on Cycling Ireland's Board of Directors from 2017 to 2021. She joined the IRFU as Women’s Rugby National Teams Program Manager in 2014. She moved into the role of Facilities & Operations Manager at the IRFU’s high performance centre prior to her new role as Head of Women's Performance and Pathways.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) August 4, 2022
Speaking of her appointment Gillian McDarby said, “It is a great privilege to be appointed as the IRFU’s first Head of Women’s Performance and Pathways. I have worked across several important areas in the game and believe there is a huge growth opportunity for the women’s game in Ireland and I am looking forward to working with all stakeholders to bring the women’s game to the next level. It is also pleasing that my appointment coincides with the formal announcement of contracts for up to 43 female players. This is a major step forward for women’s rugby in Ireland.
“Success in the women’s game will be based on sustainability: creating sustainable pathways within the competition structures, getting meaningful competition structures in place for both women and girls to access the game of rugby at the right entry points and continuing to develop competitive international teams in fifteens and sevens. That, to me, is success.
“This is an exciting time for the game and while much work has been done, there is always more to do. There are no overnight successes in sport, but I know that by working collectively with clubs, players, coaches, staff, and volunteers we can build an ever-evolving environment where young women and girls are supported to be the best they can be.”
Back in March the IRFU released the findings of its report into the failure of the women's team to qualify for the World Cup, with 30 recommendations and a promise of an additional €1m for the women's game.
The role of Director of Women's Rugby, from which Anthony Eddy resigned, was scrapped with the new role of Head of Women's Performance and Pathways created instead.
Ireland are the last of the Women’s Six Nations countries to offer professional contracts. England's 15s squad are fully professional, while France have a mix of professional and semi-professional contracts. Earlier this year, Wales offered contracted to 12 players while in April Italy offered 25 players central contrals on a semi-professional basis. In June, Scotland followed suit. Scottish Rugby offered 30 professional contracts to the 15s national squad players in a four-year strategy.