A WOMEN’S version of the United Rugby Championship should get going “sooner rather than later” according to Martin Anayi, the chief executive of the 16-team league.

Speaking at a remote media conference today, Anayi said the new venture would need the backing of the national governing bodies whose teams are involved in the URC - Scotland, Ireland, Italy, Wales and South Africa. But he insisted that the political will was there within his own organisation.

“It feels like we should have a women’s competition,” he said. “What’s really important here is what our unions are doing, what are their plans, and how can we help generate a better professional environment like they are doing in England with the Allianz Premier 15s.  

“We’re trying to work out how we bring that about. Does it need to be 16 teams? Probably not. 

“Should we get it going sooner rather than later? Yes, I think we should. I think the women’s game deserves that.

“I think we can pull together a really great competition. That needs to be in conjunction with what unions and clubs would like to achieve, because it’s going to take their funding to bring it to fruition. There’s definitely a will. We’d love to see a women’s URC and we’re just exploring how that comes about.”

With two rounds of the regular season to go, television viewing figures for this season’s URC have already surpassed last season’s. But Anayi accepted that some of the kick-off times that had been agreed with free-to-air broadcasters had not been universally popular.

“Kick-off times do need to improve, certainly in Wales but also in Scotland,” he continued. “We listened to some of the feedback from Edinburgh and Glasgow, who said they didn’t want to play all of their games on Saturday evening. So we put some of those into Friday.”

The two Scots sides are on course to finish in the top eight, which will take them into the play-offs. The URC also has eight places in next season’s Champions Cup, but Glasgow or Edinburgh could be denied a place in that tournament if they are eighth and the leading Welsh team - currently Scarlets - are below them. The ruling that the winners of each regional pool gets a Champions Cup place will remain in force next season, but Anayi suggested that if the same anomaly arose, change would be on the cards.

“We said after two years if we get into this situation twice, it’s highly likely that we would then revert to a straight top eight going through,” he added.