The RFU have announced plans to reinstate women's 15s contracts on a permanent basis.
The decision makes England the only union in the world to commit to making its leading players fully professional. Although France, New Zealand and others operate contracts, they are a combination of commitments with sevens or effectively part time.
England came under fire after the 2017 Women's Rugby World Cup when it decided not to continue with fulltime contracts and instead agreed new 7s contracts before later agreeing an alternative deal with its 15s players to include match fees.
However the RFU have now made a significant investment announcement with details of 28 new contracts starting in January.
Players will be offered a season long contract initially, but while the personnel may change, the major news today is that the contracts are here to stay and are no longer tied to World Cup cycles or are one off.
The decision was made at a board meeting of the RFU on Wednesday and the 28 contracts will be supplemented by seven elite player squad (EPS) agreements, meaning a total EPS of 35.
With immediate effect, the squad will be based Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre during core periods, providing a permanent base within a high performance training centre.
Athough it is not clear what salary players will be offered, unquestionably there will be some hard choices for many England players to make financially when weighing up a contract offer.
RFU Chief Executive Steve Brown said: “We are delighted to be able to offer full-time contracts to our 15s players. This has long been our ambition and demonstrates the RFU’s commitment to growing the women’s game and the belief we have in the future of the sport.
“We are at a tipping point for women’s rugby globally and it is our ambition to be world number one and drive growth at every level. As an organisation, from top to bottom, we are very much behind this and want to see the continued expansion and growth to realise the ambitious targets we have set ourselves.”
Under its women and girls strategy, the RFU plans to double the number of participants by 2021, increase the number of women’s teams by more than 75% to 800, the number of active women’s clubs to more than 400, and get more women involved in the sport as referees, coaches and volunteers.
RFU Director of Professional Rugby Nigel Melville said: “As a union we want to lead the way for driving standards in women’s rugby through everything we do. Full-time contracts are a big step in ensuring we have the access to players to develop them and fulfil their potential.
“Bisham Abbey is a world class training facility and it’s a great opportunity to have a permanent base and use of their facilities.”