England Rugby have awarded 17 full-time sevens contracts for their elite women players ahead of the upcoming season.
The list announced by England Women includes just eight players — Emily Scarratt, Lydia Thompson, Megan Jones, Natasha Hunt, Alex Matthews, Amy Wilson Hardy, Emily Scott and Vicky Fleetwood — who were involved in England’s 15-a-side World Cup campaign last month that culminated in them reaching the final and losing to New Zealand.
The Rugby Football Union [RFU] is now placing an emphasis on the sevens game, with tournaments this season including the Commonwealth Games in Australia, women’s world series, Rugby Europe grand prix series and the World Cup Sevens in San Francisco next July.
It was confirmed earlier this summer that contracts for the women’s XVs squad would not be renewed after the World Cup, with sevens now the main focus.
The decision, though, sparked criticism in many quarters, including from Members of Parliament.
New XVs contracts are set to be awarded ahead of the 2021 World Cup, but high-profile players not included on the sevens roster include Katy Mclean, Kay Wilson, Danielle Waterman and Rachael Burford.
Simon Amor, head of the England men’s and women’s sevens programmes, said: “Since the Rio Olympics 12 months ago, the growth of the HSBC women’s sevens series has taken international women’s sevens to a completely different level.
“We are therefore under no illusions as to the challenge we face in re-integrating the World Cup players, getting them sevens fit and building the team, its culture and our systems of play in preparation for the start of the world series.
“However, we know we have an incredibly talented squad, and with this season being an exceptionally exciting one for the women’s sevens game with both the Commonwealth Games and Rugby World Cup Sevens, our focus will be driven around success at these major tournaments.”
England women’s sevens head coach James Bailey added: “Last season enabled us to unearth new talent in the sevens programme and crucially allow younger players to gain invaluable playing experience in major tournaments.
“We are looking forward to continuing to build on performances from last season and bring this talented group together and start preparations for what will be an exciting season for sevens.”
England women full-time sevens contracts: Abbie Brown, Alex Matthews, Amy Wilson Hardy, Claire Allan, Chantelle Miell, Deborah Fleming, Emily Scarratt, Emily Scott, Heather Fisher, Holly Aitchison, Katie Mason, Lydia Thompson, Megan Jones, Millie Wood, Natasha Hunt, Sarah McKenna, Vicky Fleetwood.