England have become the first nation in the history of the women’s game to award multiple professional contracts to their 15 a-side players.
England first awarded contracts to 20 sevens players in October 2014 to prepare for the Olympics, but next season that number will be widened to include 15s players.
Of the raft of new contracts,16 of them will go to 15-aside players who will be given fulltime contracts for the first time ever, while a further 16 contracts will be awarded on a short-term basis, allowing players to come into residential camps ahead of major tournaments, including the Six Nations and the Women’s Rugby World Cup. The remaining 16 contracts will go to sevens players who will train on a part time basis.
The decision hands England a huge advantage going into the World Cup next summer, where they will defend their title and continues the RFU’s strategy of pouring investment into specific teams in and around major tournaments. With sevens having taken priority over the last year, this time the focus is on the World Cup.
RFU Chief Executive Ian Ritchie recognised the importance of providing opportunities for England Women to help develop the game across all levels, saying: “The RFU is committed to supporting the growth of women’s rugby. We are immensely proud of England Women’s achievements and we want to provide the best support to continue this success.
“More women and girls in this country are playing rugby than ever before and England Women are important role models to encourage more people to try our sport.”
The England Women elite performance squad of contracted players will be announced in September. The full-time contracts will come into effect from then with training based at Bisham Abbey, the current home of the GB women’s sevens squad.
It is intended that the majority of contracted players focusing on 15s will be released to play club rugby over the season.
RFU Head of Women’s Performance Nicky Ponsford said: “This is a really exciting time for women’s rugby in England. We will have more contracted players than ever before to give us the best possible chance of retaining the World Cup in Ireland next August. We also recognise that the sevens’ programme is important again next year with the World Sevens series and qualification for Rugby World Cup Sevens in 2018.
“The girls have proven that they are among the best in the world, delivering consistent results across both the sevens and 15s games already this year, and we want to focus on building on that.”