Twenty players, who will make up the England Women’s Sevens squad this coming season, have been awarded central contracts from the Rugby Football Union starting in September 2014.

Twelve of those who were involved in last week’s Rugby World Cup victory will be among the 20 receiving full-time funding for the first time ever in a significant step forward for the women’s game. The squad will compete on the IRB Sevens World Series circuit this season as they seek qualification as Great Britain for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

The programme will see the England players train five days a week throughout the season, excluding tournament time, at Twickenham Stadium and Surrey Sports Park in Guildford. There, they will receive strength and conditioning, medical, nutritional, lifestyle and psychological support.

The programme will be run by the RFU’s Head of Women’s Performance Nicola Ponsford and England Women’s Sevens Head Coach Simon Middleton, who was part of the Rugby World Cup winning coaching team. Middleton will be assisted by coaching staff from the England Women’s set-up.

Players will be awarded the central contracts on a yearly basis and they will still be expected to play international XVs and Premiership rugby.

England’s World Cup winning captain Katy Mclean, one of the 20 players selected on this programme, said:

“This is fantastic news for the sport and exactly what we need as an England squad to continue to be at the top of our sport on a global scale. I am extremely excited about this new challenge and where this full time programme can take us as an England team.”

Ponsford added:

“We are delighted to be able to offer a full time Sevens programme for next season. We are really excited by the opportunity and feel that this will enable us to compete on a global level.”

“The inclusion of Sevens in the Olympics has meant that a significant number of sides we are competing against have been full time for a year or more. We have been planning to do this for some time but we needed to make sure that we could focus on the XVs Rugby World Cup whilst also ensuring we had the building blocks in place to guarantee that a fulltime programme is effective. With two years to go until the 2016 Olympics Games we felt this was the right time to move forward.”

The RFU is currently finalising the next phase of the Performance Strategy taking the England Women’s squads through to, and beyond, the 2016 Olympics Games and the 2017 XVs Rugby World Cup.

Ponsford added: “We will carefully consider the amount of time we need to have with both XVs and Sevens players over this period to ensure that we are in the best place to not only retain the 2017 Rugby World Cup but challenge effectively in Sevens also. Both of these goals are of the utmost importance. We need to ensure that the foundations are in place through the RFU Player Pathway, the domestic game and international programme to ensure a long term sustainable and successful game for both XVs and Sevens rugby.”

England Sevens Squad

*Claire Allan (Richmond), *Natasha Brennan (Richmond), *Rachael Burford (Thurrock), Abigail Chamberlain (Richmond), *Heather Fisher (Worcester), Francesca Matthews (Richmond), Sarah McKenna (Saracens), *Katy Mclean (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks), *Marlie Packer (Wasps), *Emily Scarratt (Lichfield), Michaela Staniford (Wasps), *Danielle Waterman (Bristol), Joanne Watmore (Richmond), Amy Wilson-Hardy (Bristol), *Natasha Hunt (Lichfield), *Alexandra Matthews (Richmond), *Katherine Merchant (Worcester), Leanne Riley (Saracens), Emily Scott (Thurrock), *Kay Wilson (Bristol)

*Denotes Rugby World Cup winner