PROVIDING support to the national women’s rugby team in their bid to reach next year’s World Cup in New Zealand is going to be a priority for Scottish Rugby in the months ahead, promised Scottish Rugby chairman John Jeffrey at Sunday’s AGM for the governing body.

Meanwhile, chief executive Mark Dodson was keen to emphasise that this will be part of a much wider strategy which is being formulated at the moment to develop the women’s game at all levels Scotland achieved a dramatic win over Ireland on Saturday evening to book their place in a final World Cup qualification tournament expected to be played in Dubai in January.

They will compete against Samoa, Columbia and one of Japan, Kazakhstan and Hong Kong for a chance to go the global get-together. If they make it, they will be the first Scottish team to reach the Finals since 2010.

Given that the women’s game in Scotland is essentially amateur, an important first step is going to be finding a way to minimise the sacrifice players will have to make as they pursue the World Cup dream.

“It is important that we resource as much as we can to the women ahead of that final qualifier in January,” acknowledged Jeffrey.

“They are going to have take another three weeks off [work] to go to the tournament and they are going to build up to the tournament as well. It is a huge, huge ask for these girls.”

However, Dodson pointed that it will not simply be a case of flashing a cheque book at the nation’s top players, because in most cases the money on offer won’t be enough to justify taking a sabbatical from their current job. “We’ve got to look at each of their situations,” said Dodson.

“Some of those girls are accountants or vets, and they are not going to swap out of one career where they are established, to come and play professional sport when they maybe only have two or three years left.

“So, there’s the excitement around the women’s game but also the reality where we haven’t caught up to that point where a lot of women feel they can choose that career.

“It is not like women’s soccer where, now that big clubs are involved and money is coming in, women are choosing that career over careers they had before. Rugby is not there yet.

“I think some will [take the chance to play full-time], and if we feel it is the right thing to do and the girls are the right age, then this is the type of thing we will take forward.”

Scottish Rugby’s “women” strategy is one of three key pillars announced in April around which Murrayfield plans to build a post-pandemic future for the sport during the next three years, with “winning” and “well-being” the other two buzzwords.

A detailed document specifically addressing the women’s game is due out soon. “It will cover everything from player acquisition at school from four years onwards through to the professional player,” promised Dodson.

“The problem is that it is like a jigsaw where we have certain pieces but we don’t have others, so we are trying to build those missing pieces to get an overall picture.

“It is not like we can just concentrate on the top end, or the bottom end, or some point in between – we’ve got multiple problems. World Rugby, Six Nations, EPCR and the British and Irish Lions are all looking at ways in which the women’s game can be professionalised and expanded,” he added.

“Naturally, we are close to that debate, however we have far greater issues with our grassroots game and at schoolage level.

“Essentially the work we are advancing now will take the next decade to fully roll out. Our ambition is to direct investment and support to our best players to retain parity with the best nations in the world, while also outlining a plan to rebuild our player and club base from the bottom up.

“But we can’t do this alone. We’ll need every club [in Scotland] to be open to the idea of women’s and girls’ teams and that begins with a sincere welcome and is demonstrated by women being treated equally from day one.

“Appropriate facilities need to be developed and places found for women in the governance structure and at grassroots level.

“We plan to incentivise clubs that make the most progress and eventually look at professional teams under the umbrella of our pro teams in Glasgow and Edinburgh."