London (AFP) - England's leading women rugby union players will have the chance to become professionals for the first time next month, the Rugby Football Union announced Monday.
Following England's recent victory in the Women's World Cup final, the RFU will issue 20 central contracts to create a fully professional sevens squad ahead of the abbreviated game's Olympic debut at the 2016 Games in Rio.
Earlier this month, England's amateurs won the Women's World Cup for the second time, beating Canada 21-9 in the final in Paris.
Now 12 members of that squad will be among the 20 receiving full-time funding, with England's World Cup-winning captain Katy McLean set to give up her day job as a teacher.
"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," said McLean.
"I am extremely excited about this new challenge and where this full time programme can take us as an England team."
England's 20 centrally contracted players will train five days a week during the season, excluding tournament commitments, based at Twickenham and Guildford's Surrey Sports Park, south of London.
England Women's Sevens coach Simon Middleton said. "We are delighted to be able to offer a full time Sevens programme for next season.
"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.
He added: "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 full-time programme is effective.
"With two years to go until the 2016 Olympics Games we felt this was the right time to move forward."