New Zealand's best team to go professional
NEWS: New Zealand's world champion women's rugby team, the Black Ferns, are set to receive professional contracts for the first time, New Zealand Rugby (NZR) announced Monday.
In a move hailed as a landmark, team members will not only be paid for their efforts but also receive elite-level training, nutritional and career development support.
"This is a significant milestone for the women's XV game," NZ Rugby Players' Association Chief Rob Nichol said.
"It is a long-term sustainable model that offers genuine pathways and support for female players on and off the field, and that we can build on in the future."
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 title that came after a 41-32 win over 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.
The wage rates are relatively modest, with players on top contracts earning a maximum NZ$45 000 (US$33 000) a year once allowances and other payments are factored in.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen welcomed the move.
"It's exciting for women's rugby. Men's rugby had to wait over 100 years to go professional," he told reporters.
"It was inevitable that it was going to happen for women's rugby, so the sooner the better."