Scotland’s national women’s rugby team will turn professional later this year, with a minimum of 30 players to be offered contracts.
The Scottish Rugby Union also confirmed it is planning to have two semi-professional women’s sides.
The two clubs will compete in a semi-pro league with teams from “other unions”, although the SRU declined to reveal which nations will be involved.
Women and girls funding will increase from £1.6m to £4.1m over the next year.
SRU chief executive Mark Dodson said: “We are fully committed to this important and comprehensive strategy.
“As a core pillar of our business strategy, the breadth and depth of our ambition to grow the women and girls’ game is evident and I believe there are exciting times ahead for our sport in this area.”
The 30 contracted players could be announced before the women’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand in October, although their deals will not start until after the tournament.
The SRU, which this week announced a financial package to allow a 36-strong squad to prepare full-time for 11 weeks for the finals, stressed that any player can refuse a contract but will still be eligible for Scotland selection and receive appearance payments.
The system will allow players to continue their education or careers if they choose to.
Targets set by the SRU for the national team over the next four years include:
- A top-four finish by the 2024 Women’s Six Nations
- A top-eight finish at the 2025 World Cup
- Attendance at Scotland women’s games to increase to 7,000 by 2026.
Pressure has been growing on unions to invest in their women’s sides since England’s went professional in 2019 after the creation of the Premier 15s league two years earlier.
The Welsh Rugby Union responded in 2022 with their international side now on a combination of professional and semi-professional contracts.
Scotland finished sixth in the 2022 Women’s Six Nations, losing all five games, despite qualifying for the delayed 2021 Rugby World Cup the month before it started.
The move to turn professional comes as the SRU publishes its “women’s and girls strategy 2022-26” with hopes to grow the women’s game from grassroots to international.
Gemma Fay, head of women and girls, said the announcements went deeper than just increasing funding at international level.
Money will also be invested in new participation strategies, including a targeted women’s state school programme.
Further funding will create three new regional training centres and there will be physiotherapy, strength and conditioning and sports psychology support for 60 players, along with new national age grade programmes.
The SRU has set itself targets of increasing women and girls coaches, match officials, leaders and players across the four-year window.
With 6,173 current women and girls’ players, it is hoped this number will increase to 7,800.