Full-time contracts have been awarded to a dozen of Wales’ leading women players by the Welsh Rugby Union.

The group, up two from the original 10, includes Wales captain Siwan Lillicrap and GB Olympics sevens star Jasmine Joyce.

The 12-month deals, a first for the women’s game in Wales, came into force this week.

WRU performance director Nigel Walker said: “The historic awarding of 12 full-time contracts will enable all these players to be full-time professionals and have regular, weekly contact with head coach Ioan Cunningham, the rest of the coaches and our expert science and medical team.

“All of this will make a significant difference to the players’ preparation, fitness and skill-sets in order to enable us to challenge the best teams in the world.”

And coach Cunningham added: “It has been a tough but enjoyable process.

“Credit to all the players who have given us selection headaches.

“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.”

The first full-time players also include forwards Alisha Butchers, Natalia John, Carys Phillips, Gwenllian Pyrs and Donna Rose, and backs Kiera Bevan, Hannah Jones, Ffion Lewis, Lisa Neumann and Elinor Snowsill.

“We had to be fairly clinical and even ruthless," said Cunningham on the process of selecting the dozen.

"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.

“Props Gwenllian Pyrs and Donna Rose are both dynamic ball-carriers, Carys Phillips is an exceptional talent as a throwing hooker, Natalia John has a huge workrate and was one of our stand-out performers of the autumn.

"All these front five players have huge potential and getting them into a full-time, professional programme will make a huge difference from a strength and conditioning perspective, along with the technical side of their game.

“In the back row, Siwan Lillicrap and Alisha Butchers are both excellent rugby players and great leaders on the pitch.

"Alisha has a fantastic skill-set, Siwan is our captain and has an amazing understanding of the game. Both deserve this opportunity to improve further physically and technically.

“We wanted to include two full-time scrum halves in the group and we feel Keira Bevan and Ffion Lewis will complement and challenge each other within the environment.

"Keira is very sharp, Ffion identifies running opportunities and we want to develop them both to be two of the best scrum halves in the world.

“Elinor Snowsill is an experienced player, understands the game brilliantly, and being part of a full-time environment will help her make a bigger impact in the game physically and provide the opportunity to hone key skills at outside-half.

“Hannah Jones loves the physical side of rugby and leads defensively from the centre, Lisa Neumann is a powerful, attacking runner and Jaz’s talents are clearly already world-class with one of the best strike rates in world rugby, but having these players in full-time will give them a chance to develop all aspects of their game and become even better athletes and rugby players."

An announcement on the players taking up the WRU's offer of part-time contracts will be made soon.

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