Women's rugby: RFU "cannot give up" during pandemic, says chief executive

England's Poppy Cleall runs with the ball
England will compete in the 2021 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) "simply cannot give up on" women's rugby during the coronavirus pandemic, says chief executive Bill Sweeney.

Premier 15s, England's top women's league, is currently without a title sponsor and the 2019-20 season was declared null and void.

Many have expressed fears that women's sport will fall behind because of cancellations caused by the pandemic.

"The women's game is absolutely critical," Sweeney said.

"It's a major strategic priority for us. Clearly we're going to have fewer resources.

"So we've looked at our plans and asked what are the things we're going to have to pause for a while and what are the things we simply cannot give up on? Women's rugby falls squarely in that category."

The RFU will continue to fund 28 professional contracts for England women players and is in talks with two companies in the search for a new Premier 15s sponsor.

Sweeney says finding that sponsor is a "major priority" and the RFU has invested money to cover the sponsorship loss, but the governing body is yet to announce when the next Premier 15s season might start.

England were top of the 2020 Women's Six Nations table when the competition was halted by coronavirus and attracted record crowds during the tournament.

They beat Wales 66-7 in their final game and Sweeney encouraged other unions to invest in their women's game to avoid similar scorelines in the future.

"For us [supporting women's rugby] is not negotiable," he told BBC Radio 5 Live's Rugby Union Weekly.

"We're talking to other unions and saying: 'You've got to do the same thing.' We need to see a better standard of play from the other unions. We want more level contested playing fields."