WRU offer paid contracts to female players for first time as Wales Women prepare for autumn campaign

For the first time in women's rugby history, Welsh female players will be offered professional contracts.

The Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) are making up to 25 contracts available for the international game - 10 professional contracts and up to 15 retainer contracts. They are set to be in place from January next year.

It comes ahead of Wales Women's game against Japan this Sunday, as they kick-off their autumn campaign.

Earlier this year, Olympic rugby player Jasmine Joyce said she would have to return to her day job when heading back to Wales from Team GB, because the WRU did not offer females paid contracts.

Wales Captain, Siwan Lillicrap, said the contracts add "pressure to perform" but she hopes they can handle that pressure on Sunday. Credit: PA Images

When asked about the professional contracts, Wales captain Siwan Lillicrap was excited about the prospect.

She said: "We have put in a lot of work over the last few weeks.

"Our team environment is good, training has taken a step-up in level, so that is exciting.

"There is that added pressure that individuals will want to perform with contracts on the horizon. If we can deal with that pressure and put in a good performance, the aim is to see improvements.

"Our goal is representing that jersey, that badge in the best way possible. I am excited to have to opportunity to play with a great group of girls and to show fans how things have changed in our environment.

"I am excited for the challenges that lay ahead in the future."

Head coach Ioan Cunningham added: “We firmly believe this new way of working will make a huge difference to how competitive we can be at next year’s Rugby World Cup."

The WRU is investing a total of around £2 million a year into women’s rugby, including the contracts. There is also positive news that the regional game will be returning for women.

Wales Women are set to kick-off their autumn campaign against Japan on Sunday at Cardiff Arms Park. 

The team will play three fixtures in preparation for next year's World Cup in New Zealand.

The Welsh side have already played against the Black Ferns in a training game. They suffered a heavy 53-7 defeat against a team that is second in the women’s rugby world rankings.

It has been a tough year for Wales Women, following a disappointing 2021 Six Nations campaign and several staff departures.

Warren Abrahams left his role of head coach just nine months after he took on the job in March last year.

Whilst the WRU is seeking a permanent boss to fill the vacated role, Ioan Cunningham will step in as interim boss leading the team through the autumn campaign and next year's World Cup.

He will be assisted by former Scarletts attack coach Richard Whiffin, Geraint Lewis and Sophie Spence.

How can I watch the matches?

All of Wales Women's international fixtures will be broadcast live on S4C and BBC, the broadcasters have agreed a new deal with the WRU to show all three games on free-to-air television.

Captain Siwan Lillicrap says it is fantastic that the matches are being shown on television.

She said: "It is huge having live games on TV available for everyone to watch us and get behind is fantastic.

"I hope people do tune in and engage and realise the journey we are on and the point we are looking to get to and hopefully we will put on a good show and play exciting rugby.

"Hopefully that will make people want to tune in for the South Africa and Canada match and beyond."

The matches will be presented by Catrin Heledd with coverage on Radio Wales and Radio Cymru.

When will the matches be on?

Wales V Japan: Sunday 7th November on S4C from the Cardiff Arms Park kick off at 5:15pm

Wales v South Africa: Saturday 13th November on BBC Two from the Cardiff Arms Park, kick off at 12:15pm

Wales V Canada: Sunday 21st November on BBC Two from the Cardiff Arms Park, kick off at 5:00pm

Wales Women are hoping to get off to a good start having not won a game for two year's. They are one place above Japan and two places above the Springboks in the women's world rankings.

The final game against Canada will be the toughest out of the three matches as the Canadian women sit third in the world.

Japan travel to Cardiff on the back of finding out that they have qualified for next year's World Cup.