New Zealand women's rugby team awarded professional contracts

Wellington (AFP) –


New Zealand Rugby (NZR) unveiled the first professional contracts for the world champion Black Ferns women's team on Wednesday, calling it "a step forward" for the game.

It said 28 female players received contracts and another two would be awarded later this year.

It means team members will not only be paid for their efforts for the first time but also receive elite-level training, nutritional and career development support.

NZR head of women's rugby Cate Sexton said it showed growing interest in the women's game both in New Zealand and globally.

"We have a very talented pool of female players to select from and the pool is increasing every year," she said.

"We want to make sure we nurture our talent and provide our best players with the training and support they need to achieve at the highest level."

The Black Ferns have been crowned world champions five times, twice more than their famed male equivalents the All Blacks.

There were calls for change after their most recent World Cup final win, 41-32 against England in Ireland last year.

Not only were their opponents fully professional but the Black Ferns had to make the long flight back to New Zealand in economy class, while male national and Super Rugby teams travel in business class.

NZR announced last month that the Black Ferns and Australia's Wallaroos would play curtain-raisers to the All Blacks-Wallabies Bledisloe Cup matches in Sydney and Auckland in August.