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Historic moment for England's first XV pros

Some 28 English players have made history today by becoming part of the game’s first ever fulltime professional squad.

England coach Simon Middleton has named a wider 35 player squad, with seven extra players included who will come into camps and England training, but not the full-time programme.

It is understood that every player offered took a contract up, despite the challenges of quitting their existing employment, with the RFU working closely with employers throughout the process.

A small number of players have agreed tailored circumstances to allow them to continue employment such as Amy Cokayne and Shaunagh Brown who work with the RAF and Fire Services respectively.

Senior players included in the squad include Katy Daley-Mclean, who earned her 100th cap in November, captain Sarah Hunter, Marlie Packer, and Vicky Fleetwood and they are joined by 2017 World Cup finalists Sarah Bern, Rachael Burford, Vickii Cornborough, Abbie Scott and Lydia Thompson.

The RFU had already announced the inclusion of star players Natasha Hunt and Emily Scarratt, joining Jess Breach in the move back to the 15s setup from sevens.

There are six new names in the squad coming from players who made their debuts in the Autumn. Firwood Waterloo back-row forward Sarah Beckett, Loughborough Lightning centre Carys Williams and Goucester-Hartpury centre Tatyana Heard have been awarded full-time contracts, while Ellena Perry, Wasps scrum-half Claudia Macdonald and uncapped Saracens prop Bryony Cleall are also named under the EPS agreements.

The squad comes together today at its new base Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre for January testing, before three-days of training get underway tomorrow ahead of the 2019 Women’s Six Nations which kick off against Ireland in Dublin on Friday 1 February.

Simon Middleton said: “I am confident that this group of players have the potential to grow into the world-class squad we will be looking to take to New Zealand in 2021.

“Congratulations to all those selected, every player has worked hard to rightly earn their place. As a player and management group, our immediate focus is very much on the Six Nations and the continued development of what is a still a very new squad of players.

“The introduction of full-time contracts will take time to embed but will unquestionably help us to accelerate the development process. This is a huge opportunity and we recognise the expectation that comes with the investment. It is now down to us as a management and playing group to meet those expectations.”

RFU Head of Women’s Performance Nicky Ponsford added: “At England Rugby we want to be driving standards in women’s rugby through everything we do. Full-time contracts help to ensure we have the access to players to develop them and allow them and fulfil their potential.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the clubs in developing this group of players and continuing to grow the Tyrrells Premier 15s at a domestic level.”

England Women Elite Player Squad 2019

Forwards

Zoe Aldcroft (Gloucester-Hartpury Womens RFC)
Sarah Beckett (Firwood Waterloo Ladies)
Sarah Bern (Bristol Bears Women)
Hannah Botterman (Saracens Women)
Jo Brown (Loughborough Lightning)
Rowena Burnfield (Richmond FC)*
Shaunagh Brown (Harlequins Ladies)
Bryony Cleall (Saracens Women)*
Poppy Cleall (Saracens Women)
Amy Cokayne (Wasps FC Ladies)*
Vickii Cornborough (Harlequins Ladies)
Lark Davies (Worcester Valkyries)
Vicky Fleetwood (Saracens Women)
Sarah Hunter (Loughborough Lightning)
Justine Lucas (Loughborough Lightning)
Cath O' Donnell (Loughborough Lightning)
Marlie Packer (Saracens Women)
Ellena Perry (Saracens Women)*
Abbie Scott (Harlequins Ladies)

Backs

Jess Breach (Harlequins Ladies)
Rachael Burford (Harlequins Ladies)
Katy Daley-Mclean (Loughborough Lightning)
Abby Dow (Wasps FC Ladies)*
Zoe Harrison (Saracens Women)
Tatyana Heard (Gloucester-Hartpury Womens RFC)
Natasha Hunt (Gloucester-Hartpury Womens RFC)
Claudia Macdonald (Wasps FC Ladies)*
Sarah McKenna (Saracens Women)
Leanne Riley (Harlequins Ladies)
Emily Scarratt (Loughborough Lightning)
Emily Scott (Harlequins Ladies)*
Kelly Smith (Gloucester-Hartpury Womens RFC)
Lydia Thompson (Worcester Valkyries)
Lagi Tuima (Bristol Bears Women)
Carys Williams (Loughborough Lightning)

* EPS agreement player