Ahead of the 2019 World Cup the England men's team stood proudly for photos as they boarded a charter to Japan with official airline partner British Airways.
You might expect the women's team to do the same as they start their 28.5 hour journey to New Zealand on Friday night, but instead they will be travelling to the World Cup in the economy section of a flight with Middle Eastern carrier Emirates.
That is despite BA publicly pledging to fly England’s men’s and women’s squads to tournaments around the world when it announced its multi-year, “groundbreaking” partnership with the RFU four years ago.
At the time of unveiling its agreement with the RFU in August 2018 – two months before it was announced that the women’s World Cup would be held in New Zealand – BA said in a statement: “The partnership will see British Airways fly the England Men’s and Women’s teams to matches all around the world, including to Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan and Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2021.”
The RFU pointed out that BA does not fly directly to New Zealand, which prompted the need to source an alternative carrier for the Red Roses.
It is possible, however, to fly with BA for part of the 11,405-mile route from London to Auckland before taking a connecting flight with one of its OneWorld flight partners. BA declined to comment when pressed by Telegraph Sport whether this option had been explored with the RFU.
BA flew England men business class to the 2019 men’s World Cup in Japan on a chartered aircraft emblazoned with the words ‘Sweet Chariot’. Players were honoured with a send-off at Heathrow ahead of their 5,948-mile flight to Tokyo and fed protein-rich meals and snacks during the 11-hour 30-minute flight. The men's team also flew in business class when they toured Australia this summer.
It is a markedly different situation for the women’s team, who will be travelling in economy class and have been given strict instructions by the RFU not to post photos of the 28-hour journey to Auckland on social media due to Emirates not being their official flight partner.
The RFU claimed an economy flight for the Red Roses was justified because the women’s side operates at a loss and described the situation as one of many “challenging decisions around what we can invest in and what will provide the best results and return for the team.”
The body also highlighted its world-leading support of the women’s game, which included full-time contracts that were unveiled in 2019 which has seen England become the top-ranked nation in female Test rugby, in addition to the growth of its top-flight domestic competition, the Premier 15s.
“Despite these successes and our continued investment, the women’s game will be loss-making for some years to come and therefore we have to make challenging decisions around what we can invest in and what will provide the best results and return for the team,” the RFU said in a statement.
The union also highlighted that extra investment has been pumped into its women’s programme ahead of their World Cup campaign, including additional physios, performance coaches, a nutritionist and a full-time psychologist.
“From a performance perspective, the team management has chosen to invest in these areas as well as having two weeks in the country before the first game rather than flying in business,” it added.
England, who are major favourites to win the World Cup, open their campaign against Fiji on October 8. Players have been given a jet lag acclimatisation plan and are expected to do light training on September 27 and 28, before returning to full training on Thursday next week.