Wednesday, 12 June 2024

From Stardom to Silence: Poppy Cleall's Stunning Omission from England Contract

From Stardom to Silence: Poppy Cleall's Stunning Omission from England Contract
Monday, 03 June 2024 11:56

England Rugby Shakeup: Poppy Cleall's Surprising Omission from Contracted Players List

In a startling development, Poppy Cleall has found herself excluded from England’s roster of contracted women’s players, as the Rugby Football Union (RFU) announced the 32 individuals who have secured deals for the upcoming season. Cleall, a veteran with 65 international caps to her name and a former Six Nations player of the championship, stands out as the most prominent omission from the RFU's full-time contract list. Despite her stellar performances for Saracens in the Premiership Women’s Rugby this season following a return from injury last autumn, Cleall has yet to feature under new head coach John Mitchell at the national level.

Last year saw a significant upgrade in salaries for England's women's team following extensive negotiations involving the Rugby Players’ Association, the RFU, and a player committee representing the Red Roses. The salary range, now between £38,850 to £47,250, reflects a commitment to professionalizing the women’s game. Notably, 29 out of the 32 members of the Grand Slam-winning Six Nations squad have secured new deals, with players like Maddie Feaunati of Exeter Chiefs making headlines after declining an offer from the Black Ferns to join the English ranks.

However, there are notable exclusions from the list, including Sydney Gregson, the dynamic 28-year-old center who has been a standout performer for Saracens this season. Gregson, who made her first England appearance in almost a decade during the Six Nations, finds herself overlooked, alongside players like Emma Sing of Gloucester-Hartpury and Amber Reed of Bristol Bears.

Transition contracts worth £10,500 have been awarded to eight players, intended to support emerging talents in their early professional endeavors while allowing time for dedicated rugby development. Among these recipients are Liz Hanlon of Exeter Chiefs, who made her debut in the recent dominant victory over Ireland at Twickenham, and rising star Steph Else from the England Under-20 setup.

Charlie Hayter, the RFU’s head of women’s performance, emphasized the fierce competition within the Red Roses squad and the collective commitment towards growing the game, with eyes set on success in the upcoming Rugby World Cup. As preparations intensify for the upcoming fixtures against formidable opponents like France and New Zealand, followed by the WXV 1 tournament in Canada, the focus remains squarely on readiness and performance at the highest level.

Poppy Cleall's Road Ahead: Navigating Challenges and Seizing Opportunities

Poppy Cleall's absence from England’s latest roster of contracted players marks a significant downturn in her journey, reflecting the intense competition within the Red Roses’ back-row rather than any shortfall in her abilities on the field. At 31 years old, Cleall boasts a wealth of experience, having led her country to a historic victory over New Zealand and captained the side during the Six Nations in 2022, where she was also named player of the championship. Her advocacy for broader investment in non-English players amidst the RFU's initial exclusivity in offering professional contracts showcased her leadership beyond the pitch.

However, injuries have hindered Cleall's recent performances, coinciding with a surge in competition for places in England’s back row, notably with the emergence of Maddie Feaunati, Zoe Aldcroft, and Alex Matthews as formidable competitors. While her influence at Saracens remains pronounced, questions regarding her conduct have surfaced, including a recent incident involving an alleged headbutt, though she was later cleared following an RFU investigation.

Despite the strides made in female rugby contracts, the gap between women's and men's earnings persists. Yet, the revamped agreements have become pivotal in shaping many players’ careers, providing financial stability crucial for full-time dedication to the sport. For Cleall, not securing a contract doesn't necessarily signify the end of her international aspirations. Opportunities to feature as a non-contracted player in England’s WXV campaign and participate in training camps offer avenues for continued involvement. Moreover, her performance for Saracens could potentially reignite her prospects for inclusion in John Mitchell’s plans for the upcoming World Cup, should she maintain her stellar form.

While the road ahead may appear challenging, Cleall’s resilience and determination could see her navigate through these setbacks, emerging stronger and more determined to reclaim her spot on the international stage.

In conclusion, while Poppy Cleall faces a challenging period in her rugby career with her omission from England’s contracted players list, her journey is far from over. With her wealth of experience, leadership qualities, and unwavering commitment, Cleall possesses the resilience to overcome obstacles and seize opportunities that lie ahead. As she continues to excel for Saracens and potentially earns opportunities with the national team in non-contracted roles, her dedication to the sport remains undiminished. The coming months present a chance for Cleall to reaffirm her place among England’s elite, demonstrating her prowess on the field and reclaiming her spot on the international stage with renewed vigor.