England Women have announced that professional player contracts will be awarded for the 15-a-side game for the first time as part of England Rugby’s on-going commitment to the professionalisation of women’s rugby.
There will be 48 player contracts for the 2016/17 season as the squad build towards their bid to retain the Women’s Rugby World Cup next year.
Following the Olympic Games in Rio, 16 players will be awarded full-time contracts with a focus on the 15-a-side game. An additional 16 players will be handed part-time, three-day-a-week contracts with a sevens focus. 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, to ensure the squad is well prepared.
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.”
England Women first awarded contracts to 20 sevens players in October 2014.