WALES captain Siwan Lillicrap couldn’t hold back the tears after it was revealed that she and eleven other female players were the first to be given professional contracts by the Welsh Rugby Union.

Last year, the Bristol Bears number eight admitted she had come close to quitting the game before finally winning her first senior cap in 2016 at the age of 28.

Always one to wear her heart on her sleeve, particularly during recent years when Wales women were in the doldrums, Lillicrap was overcome with emotion in today’s WRU press conference.

Having spoken about what it meant to be among the select dozen to receive a full-time contract, the Swansea-born forward wept while reflecting on the hurdles she has faced getting to this point.

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Now 34, Lillicrap has resigned from her job as head of rugby at Swansea University to take up the offer of a 12-month deal.

Being in possession of a professional contract was something she “wanted to throw myself into”, making the possibility of taking a sabbatical from work wasn’t going to be on the cards.

“Sometimes, life is about risks, and this was a no-brainer, it’s absolutely what I want to do for the next 12 months,” she said.

“It’s something I’m passionate about and committed to, and I wanted to make a positive change.

“For me, it was about how do I get into this position at the earliest opportunity, and how do I give everything that I possibly can to being a professional player.

“That meant leaving behind my current role, which I was absolutely at ease with and the university have supported me completely.

“From that perspective, I wanted to focus on something completely new as soon as I could and get my teeth into it.

“I threw myself into it and I’m at ease with that decision and feel like that was the right decision for me to be able to apply myself completely to being a professional player over the next 12 months.”

She continued: “It’s a dream job, to be able to have this opportunity to be a professional rugby player, a professional rugby player in Wales and to be the best player we can be for that red jersey is huge.

“It’s going to be life-changing for myself, to be able to concentrate on being the best player I can be ahead of the World Cup is absolutely massive.

“The main thing for us is the journey’s just beginning. We’ve got this opportunity and it’s about how we change that story over the next 12 months.

“We’ve got a chance to change the face of Welsh women’s rugby and that is bigger than any of us.

“This is a huge day for Wales women’s rugby and I’m so grateful to have this chance to be the best player I can be and do that jersey proud. It’s massive.

“Seeing it come to life is quite emotional.”

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Joining the captain as a full-time pro are fellow 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.

For Lillicrap, building a legacy is also a big part of what today’s announcement is about.

She said: “It will push all of us as players into being the best players we can be and make others strive to be in our fortunate position.

“One thing is for certain, during the tough times we’ve had over the last few years, we’ve stayed tight as a group of players.

“Even when results haven’t been going our way, we’ve stuck with the process and stayed together.

“There is more work to make sure that continues, but from everything we’ve been through to where we are now, I have no doubt that the girls will support each other.

“And make sure we are all in the best position we can be to represent Wales the best way. That’s why we’re doing this.

“It’s not just about us, it’s about inspiring the next generation of players. It’s about those young girls or boys, or anyone who loves rugby, it’s inspiring them to achieve something really special.”

After becoming interested in rugby at a young age, Lillicrap had to wait until she was 17 to play for Waunarlwydd women as there were no girls’ teams at the club or in the area.

And it was a question touching on that which brought her feelings to the surface.

“That was the reality, I didn’t have a club to play for, there was no age-grade rugby for girls,” she said through the tears.

“I fought for so long to even get my first Welsh cap, and to be in this privileged position now, and the strides that the game has taken, is massive.”

The WRU says the dozen players will be based at their high performance centre in Hensol and will be joined two days a week by a further 15 players who will be on retainer contracts.

Those on part-time retainer contracts will be announced soon.