Women's Rugby World Cup 2017: England XVs contracts will not be renewed

England captain Katy Mclean wins World Cup
England won the Women's Rugby World Cup for the first time in 20 years in 2014

Contracts for England women's XVs squad will not be renewed after the forthcoming Rugby World Cup despite the side being defending champions.

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) says its focus will switch to the sevens game after the tournament, which starts in Ireland next month.

England's retired World Cup winner Maggie Alphonsi said the news was "very disappointing".

It is understood several current squad members will move to a sevens contract.

New XVs contracts will then be awarded in preparation for the 2021 Women's Rugby World Cup.

England, who won the World Cup for the first time in 20 years in 2014, begin their defence against Spain in Dublin on 9 August.

News on their contracts emerged at a time when there is increased focus on women's sport, with England lifting the Women's Cricket World Cup at Lord's and the football side winning their first two matches at Euro 2017.

England named a 28-player squad in June for next month's tournament.

England women's rugby squad during a training session
England's women training in Bath earlier this month

Reports suggest there are a total of about 50 England players who are on a mixture of full-time and part-time professional contracts, with only 17 full-time professional fixed-term deals set to be handed out in September, purely for the sevens programme.

The move was criticised by two female Labour MPs.

Barbara Keeley, MP for Worsley and Eccles South, called it "a shameful decision" and Gower MP Tonia Antoniazzi said on Twitter: "Another huge blow for women with contracts being slashed by England RFU."

The RFU, which announced record revenues last year of more than £400m, says its priorities shift between the XVs and sevens programmes, with the Rugby World Cup Sevens and Commonwealth Games taking place next year.

It says the XVs side will continue to take part in competitions, and stresses it has invested millions of pounds in the women's game, including £800,000 annually on a new domestic club competition aimed at increasing and improving the talent pool available for selection for England.

"The women's squad were always aware that contracts would end in September, after the World Cup," said RFU director of professional rugby Nigel Melville.

"The current XVs squad was informed in April that the next contracts will be focused on sevens, reflecting the cyclical nature of the women's game. The squad fully understands the position and are focused on the World Cup in Ireland next month."

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