RFU awards England Women's squad full-time professional contracts

England Women won all three of their November International fixtures, finishing their 2018 season with a 37-15 win over Ireland Women David Rogers - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) has announced England Women's first squad of full-time professional players and has set its sights on regaining the Women's Six Nations championship in March.

The organisation revealed plans for the team to go fully professional last year, awarding full-time contracts to players for the first time.

The 35-player squad includes 28 full-time professionals alongside seven players supported by Elite Player Squad agreements and will be permanently based at a high-performance training centre in Berkshire.

Katy Daley-Mclean, Sarah Hunter, Marlie Packer and Vicky Fleetwood, who were all part of the 2014 World Cup winning side, are all among the names included in the squad, joining Emily Scaratt, Natasha Hunt and Jess Breach, who became the first players to be awarded full-time deals back in December.

England's players will be paid an average salary of £24,000, according to The Times. By comparison, England Men's squad are paid around £25,000 a game.

The plans underline the RFU's long-term target of developing the growth of women's rugby in England. The organisation aims to double participation by 2021, as well as increasing the number of women's teams, clubs, coaches and referees.

England Women's head coach Simon Middleton said the RFU's investment in the team will increase expectations but is confident of developing a "world-class squad" ahead of the Women's Rugby World Cup in New Zealand in 2021.

"Congratulations to all those selected, every player has worked hard to rightly earn their place," Middleton said.

"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.

"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.

"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."

"At England Rugby we want to be driving standards in women's rugby through everything we do," RFU Head of Women's Performance Nicky Ponsford added.

"Full-time contracts help to ensure we have the access to players to develop them and allow them and fulfil their potential."

England have dominated the Six Nations since the first year of the competition in 1996, winning 14 titles and securing 13 Grand Slams, but finished runner-up to France last year.

The Red Roses travel to Ireland in the opening game of the tournament on Feb. 1.