England in World Cup final today! No, really

With no prize money nor match fee, the country's women's rugby team takes on the might of the All Blacks – simply for the glory of holding the trophy
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The Independent Online

When the England rugby team walks on to the turf at Twickenham to face New Zealand in the World Cup Final today it will be in front of a near-capacity crowd and TV cameras. But there will be no big sponsorship deals, no match-winning bonus and, in fact, no money at all for any of the star players.

The insulting lack of accolade or incentive is simply because the international athletes in this case are women – who have had to take holiday or unpaid leave from their jobs just to compete in the tournament.

Their captain, Catherine Spencer, who plays at number 8, gave up her job as an office manager to reach the final. "It would be a dream to be a professional rugby player but I think we're some way away from being professional in the financial sense of the word," she said. "We all need to work to pay our bills and mortgages. There are full-time teachers and a full-time vet. She'll be out on call at 3am and still be at the gym at 6am."

The 31-year-old, who led the team to a resounding 15-0 win over Australia in the semi-finals last week, faces her toughest challenge yet against the All Blacks, but she is confident. "We beat New Zealand in Twickenham in November and the potential in the team is phenomenal. I'm just really excited. We said all along we've got to peak five times in the tournament and we've already peaked four times. We just need to do it once more."

This is the first time in 19 years that the women's World Cup has been played on home soil and the third consecutive time the English women have faced New Zealand in the final. England lost in both previous battles, but they are heavy odds-on favourites to take the cup today.

Amy Garnett, 34, will be playing in her fourth World Cup. The hooker takes her 91st cap for England today and believes the team is better this time round. "I think we're in better condition, and that's no reflection on the girls four years ago; that's just the support that we've had from the IES (Institute of English Sport), Rugby Football Union and Rugby Football Union for Women which has helped us be better prepared."

While the men's team have lucrative individual sponsorship deals, club salaries and advertising campaigns, the only perk for the women's team is free kit. "We don't get any individual money from sponsors at all," said Spencer. "But we've got a kit deal with Nike." There are 500 women's rugby clubs in the country, but not one woman gets paid to play at club level. Contrast that with the average salary for a male professional rugby player in England of £56,000.

If the men had beaten South Africa in the 2007 World Cup they would have taken home bonuses of £45,000 on top of the £35,000 in appearance fees and win bonuses they took throughout the tournament.

For Spencer, the end of the World Cup will mean returning to work, this time as a rugby development manager in the South-west. Spencer is hopeful that a professional women's game is not far off, however. "It's a growing sport so perhaps it will happen in a year or two," she said.

What will they get if they win? Spencer replies: "Just the glory of holding the World Cup; that's enough."

Additional reporting Pavan Amara

Lewis Moody 32, captain, men's team

Position: Flanker

Club Salary: roughly £100,000, according to industry estimates

Advertising/sponsorship deals: Guinness; Wrigleys Airwaves; Oliver Sweeney shoes and leather jackets

Appearance/winnings fees for 2007 World Cup finals: £35,000

Potential bonus for winning 2007 World Cup: £45,000

Catherine Spencer 31, captain, women's team

Position: No 8

Club Salary: £0 for Bristol

Advertising/sponsorship deals: £0, gets free kit from Nike

Appearance/winnings payments for making it to World Cup final: £0

Bonus on winning World Cup: £0