England Women to go fully professional in 2019, 28 deals on table from RFU

The RFU will award 28 full-time contracts to the England women 15s side starting next year Photo by Henry Browne - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) has announced plans to award full-time contracts to England Women's 15-a-side players from next year.

An announcement on Wednesday from the RFU said it was now in a position to move forward with proposals to offer 28 full contracts to female internationals, starting in January 2019.

The plans will also see the squad permanently based at the high-performance Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre, Berkshire, with immediate effect as part of a move to improve standards in the game.

The announcement constitutes a major breakthrough in the row over women's contracts. Back in August, The Times reported that players had grown disenfranchised over the lack of progress in talks with the RFU, with the governing body then insisting that it was not in a position to offer full-time deals at that moment in time.

Talks, though, have since progressed to the point where full-time professional contracts will now be offered from Jan.1 next year.

Responding to the news on Wednesday, RFU Chief Executive Steve Brown expressed his delight at finding a resolution to the long-standing issue.

"We are delighted to be able to offer full-time contracts to our 15s players,' he said. 'This has long been our ambition and demonstrates the RFU's commitment to growing the women's game and the belief we have in the future of the sport.

"We are at a tipping point for women's rugby globally and it is our ambition to be world number one and drive growth at every level. As an organisation, from top to bottom, we are very much behind this and want to see the continued expansion and growth to realise the ambitious targets we have set ourselves."

Meanwhile, the Rugby Players' Association (RPA) hailed what it described as a "progressive decision".

"The RPA welcomes this morning's announcement that the RFU is to introduce women's full-time 15s contracts this season," an RPA statement read. "As one of the game's most successful national teams, we are excited that they now have the opportunity to fulfil their potential and challenge to become the number one team in the world.

"We would like to thank the RFU for taking this progressive decision but our biggest thanks goes to England Women's Player Representatives who have played a leading role in securing this landmark moment in the women's game."