The Welsh Rugby Union has awarded professional contracts to female players for the first time in history with a group of 12 women signing 12 month deals.
With a total of 360 international caps between them, the group features current national team captain Siwan Lillicrap and former skipper Carys Phillips.
Fly-half Elinor Snowsill is the most capped player in the group with 60 appearances for the national side while prop Donna Rose is the least experienced with six caps.
Bristol Bears winger Jasmine Joyce, who also represents the Wales and Great Britain Rugby Sevens sides, has also been awarded a deal as have centre Hannah Jones, scrum-half Keira Bevan, hooker Cary Phillips and flanker Ailisha Butchers.
Completing the group are second row Natalia John, winger Lisa Neumann and scrum-half Ffion Lewis.
All have signed 12 month deals, which begin this week, and will be based out of the National Centre of Excellence at the Vale Resort, near Cardiff along with the management team.
The WRU also intend to award a further 15 semi-professional or “retainer” contracts but the players who will receive those have yet to be announced.
In an official statement, Group Chief Executive Steve Phillips said: “This is a very proud day for us as a governing body. I am very pleased to be able to say we have our first full-time female players who will represent Wales on the international stage.
“This is set to be a very demanding but unforgettable year for women’s rugby and these players – along with the players on retainer contracts and other squad members – will benefit from the full range of our expert on and off-field support to help them reach their potential.
This is the start of an exciting journey for women and girls in Wales.”
Wales Women head coach Ioan Cunningham added: “It’s been a tough but enjoyable process. Credit to all the players who have given us selection headaches. We are all now super excited to get the programme started.
“Talent and ability was the first element in our selection process and then the potential growth of the individual player along with their attitude.
“We had to be fairly clinical and even ruthless. We clearly have short and medium term goals in terms of the Six Nations and the Rugby World Cup but we also have an eye on developing the best players for the future of Welsh rugby.
“Overall, we have gone for the players we feel could make the biggest gains at this time, not forgetting the contribution the players who receive retainer contracts will also make to the programme.”
Fan reaction as WRU award 12 professional contracts to Women players
Reaction to the news has been largely positive but also mixed with confusion as to the number of players who have been awarded the deals.
Many fans have taken to social media questioning why only 12 players have been selected when it takes 15 to make a starting line-up and 22 for a match day squad.
@shrekfacethema1: “Step in the right direction but with a squad being around 22 players-only 12 full time contracts is a bit of a strange one to be honest. It’s like saying….”we want to take it seriously…..but not to seriously’. Cmon WRU give your heads a wobble”
@CennyddW: “Fantastic step. Sincerely hope it’s the first of many steps to develop the women’s game in Wales.”
@lofty_18: “Great news and hopefully a first step towards more players on central contracts but would like a Welsh side in the English 15’s - surely a Cardiff met or Swansea uni side with the 12 centrally contracted players plus development players got to be more competitive than Durham.”
@NickPrice1987: “It’s brilliant to see but seems strange it’s only 12 considering there is 22 in a match day squad. Plus is that now them automatically selected for the starting line up whenever they are fit?”
Despite the mixed reaction from the fanbase, the news has been largely welcomed by the players who have signed the deals including Jasmine Joyce.
She tweeted: “Some very exciting times ahead Something we have all waited patiently for, and finally being given our opportunity. Can’t wait for the challenge and live my dream job for another year.”
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