West Sussex rugby star Jess Breach is one of the first to be handed England Women XV contracts for the 2019 season as she moves across from the England Women Sevens programme.
The 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup finalists Natasha Hunt and Emily Scarratt will move to the England Women XVs programme from January 1 alongside rising star Breach, who comes from Felpham and played for Chichester and Pulborough rugby clubs in her junior days.
All three represented Team England in the 2018 Commonwealth Games and Rugby World Cup Sevens, having regularly featured in the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series.
England Women head coach Simon Middleton.aid: "We look forward to seeing them in camp in the new year. These world-class players bring a wealth of talent and experience into the XVs programme.
“We know that it can take time to transition back but we look forward to seeing them in camp in the new year, when we will be in a position to announce the full squad. This is a really exciting year for England Women and we can’t wait to get underway in January ahead of the 2019 Six Nations.”
An article on the RFU website today said the RFU announced in September it would introduce women’s full-time contracts in 2019 underlining its commitment to the long-term growth of women’s rugby. On January 3 the RFU will confirm a total of 28 full-time contracts and seven Elite Player Squad (EPS) agreements taking the squad size available to 35 players.
Under the contracts the three transitioning sevens players will join the Tyrrells Premier 15s, with Breach returning to former club Harlequins while 2014 World Cup winners Hunt and Scarratt join West Country club Gloucester-Hartpury and Loughborough Lightning respectively.
The England Women’s squad will convene at Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre on January 4 for their first camp of the year ahead of the 2019 Women’s Six Nations which gets under way against Ireland in Dublin on Friday, February 1.
Head of England Sevens, Simon Amor said: “This is a great opportunity for Emily, Jess and Natasha who are three very talented players and while we are obviously disappointed to see them go, we respect their decision and they have our full support.
“We have a very talented, young group of players in our current squad and while they are one of the least experienced teams on the World Series they have already made a good impact. The growth from them as both individuals and as a group from Colorado to Dubai was clear for all to see, we are excited to see them continue to grow and develop over the coming months and showcase their talent on the World Series and European Circuit.”
The RFU first introduced professional contracts to its women’s sevens squad in August 2014 which saw the women’s programme become fully professional in-line with the men’s. The RFU integrated both men’s and women’s sevens programmes earlier this year by basing both teams out of the England Rugby High Performance Centre at the Lensbury in Teddington.
The RFU launched the Tyrrells Premier 15s in 2017 which saw the union invest £2.4 million in the new women’s domestic XVs competition with the aim to improve standards of the women’s game, as well as increase the talent pool available for selection for England in the future.
Under the RFU’s women and girls strategy, the union 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.