RFU to stream women's domestic Premier 15s matches live

The RFU announcement comes after England reached the Women's Rugby World Cup final in Belfast, which ended in defeat. David Rogers/Getty Images

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) will stream at least five matches from the new women's domestic competition this season as part of the governing body's strategy to grow the women's game.

With 10 clubs in a league format, the Tyrrells Premier 15s starts on September 16 and the clubs will play each other home and away, with the top four progressing to a two-leg semifinal stage and the winners to a final on April 29.

The RFU will invest £2.4 million over the next three seasons in the league and crisp-manufacturer Tyrrells is the first major sponsor of a women's rugby competition in England.

Speaking to PA Sport, an RFU spokeswoman said: "We are committed to live streaming at least five matches this season -- and probably more -- to grow the audience and reach of the women's game and the new competition."

It is understood these matches will be shown free of charge on the RFU website, although there are also plans to consider streaming via Facebook and other online platforms.

Earlier this year, World Rugby streamed the June round of its HSBC Women's Sevens Series in Clermont-Ferrand and sports as diverse as the National Football League and table tennis have also recently experimented with live online broadcasts of matches.

The launch of the new women's league comes at a crucial moment for the sport after England's run to the Women's Rugby World Cup final, which ended with a frustrating but compelling defeat by New Zealand on Saturday, and the controversy over the RFU's funding of the women's team.

Following England's victory at the 2014 Women's Rugby World Cup in France, the RFU first handed out central contracts to female players in 2014 to help them prepare for the inaugural Olympic sevens competition at Rio 2016, which saw an England-dominated Great Britain side narrowly miss out on a medal.

Fifty central contracts were awarded in 2016, 17 of them full-time, for the build-up to this year's Women's Rugby World Cup but it was always planned that some of those contracts would not be renewed after the tournament as the focus reverted to sevens in 2018, with the Tokyo Olympics on the horizon in 2020.

The ramifications of this decision took a long time to enter the public domain but, shortly before the Women's Rugby World Cup started, the RFU was put on the back foot as it defended the move.

Despite wide calls for a rethink on the central contracts decision, the RFU has stuck to its strategy of targeting funding at the most relevant format of the game in each competition cycle and concentrated its efforts on increasing England's talent pool and developing a sustainable financial model.

This is why it is so keen to promote the Tyrrells Premier 15s, which it sees as a commitment to the women's game unrivalled in world rugby and a key plank in its strategy to double the number of female players in England to 50,000 by 2021.

In response to a recent Evening Standard report that it was considering making payments to female players based on match fees, similar to the model used for the men's team, the RFU told PA Sport this was "speculation".