England Women have announced their Elite Player Squad for 2016/17, with 29 players awarded the first ever 15-a-side professional contracts.
The 54-player squad is split into full-time, part-time, short-term and non-contracted players with 38 contracts awarded to date.
Eight of the 12-player Team GB Olympic squad will return to the 15s programme this season as England Women bid to retain the Women's World Cup which kicks off in Ireland in August 2017. These include Team GB captain Emily Scarratt alongside fellow 2014 World Cup winners and Olympians Claire Allan, Natasha Hunt, Katy Mclean and Danielle Waterman.
Lotte Clapp (Saracens), Deborah Fleming (Saracens), Kelly Smith (Worcester Valkyries), Millie Wood (Lichfield) and Rachael Woosey (Darlington Mowden Park) have all progressed through England’s age group teams and will this season focus on sevens having been awarded part-time, three-day-a-week contracts.
A further nine contracts have been awarded on a short-term basis, releasing 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.
Up to 10 contracts remain within the EPS for players to stake a claim during the opening rounds of the Women's Premiership which kicked off last weekend.
Six new names are among the 16-player wider EPS in Zoe Aldcroft (Darlington Mowden Park), Sarah Bern (Bristol), Poppy Cleall (Bristol), Lark Davies (Worcester Valkyries), Abby Dow (Wasps) and Poppy Leitch (Bristol).
The EPS will prepare for three Old Mutual Wealth Series fixtures in November (see below) alongside an away game against Ireland, before the Six Nations championship and the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in which England will seek qualification for the 2018 Rugby Sevens World Cup in San Francisco.
England Women's head coach Simon Middleton said: "With less than 12 months to the 2017 Women's Rugby World Cup, the focus for the EPS this year will be very much on the 15-a-side game. We believe everyone in this squad has the potential to make the World Cup.
"This season is about going out and winning against the best. We start with a very tough series of tests in the Old Mutual Wealth Series. Every one of the five teams involved this November will have well-founded ambitions to win the World Cup next year and we want to lay down some markers.
"We are looking forward to an exciting season and I would like to recognise and thank those employers who have supported and released players to take up these contracts and represent England."
Both the full and part-time squads train at Bisham Abbey, with additional camps held in other training venues around the country. It is expected that some players will compete on both the 15s and sevens circuit.
England Women EPS 2016/17
Full time contracts – 18
Claire Allan (Saracens), Abbie Brown (Bristol), Rachael Burford (club TBC), Amy Cokayne (Lichfield), Heather Fisher (n/a), Vicky Fleetwood (Saracens), Natasha Hunt (Lichfield), Megan Jones (Bristol), Alex Matthews (Richmond), Sarah McKenna (Saracens), Katy Mclean (Darlington Mowden Park), Marlie Packer (Bristol), Amber Reed (Bristol), Emily Scarratt (Lichfield), Emily Scott (Thurrock), Danielle Waterman (Bristol), Kay Wilson (Richmond), Amy Wilson Hardy (Bristol)
Part time – 9
Natasha Brennan (n/a), Lauren Cattell (Saracens), Lotte Clapp (Saracens), Deborah Fleming (Saracens), Katie Mason (Bristol), Fran Matthews (Richmond), Kelly Smith (Worcester Valkyries), Millie Wood (Lichfield), Rachael Woosey (Darlington Mowden Park)
Short Term – 11
Emily Braund (Lichfield), Rochelle Clark (Worcester Valkyries), Vickii Cornborough (Aylesford Bulls), Sarah Hunter (Bristol), Laura Keates (Worcester Valkyries), LaToya Mason (Darlington Mowden Park), Harriet Millar-Mills (Lichfield), Izzy Noel-Smith (Bristol), Abbie Scott (Darlington Mowden Park), Tamara Taylor (Darlington Mowden Park), Lydia Thompson (Worcester Valkyries)
Non Contracted – 16
Sasha Acheson (Bristol), Zoe Aldcroft (Darlington Mowden Park), Sarah Bern (Bristol), Bianca Blackburn (Worcester Valkyries), Poppy Cleall (Bristol), Emma Croker (Richmond), Lark Davies (Worcester Valkyries), Abby Dow (Wasps), Heather Kerr (Darlington Mowden Park), Ceri Large (Worcester Valkyries), Poppy Leitch (Bristol), Justine Lucas (Lichfield), Fiona Pocock (Aylesford Bulls), Alice Richardson (n/a), Leanne Riley (Aylesford Bulls), Joanne Watmore (n/a)