England Women announce 48 player contracts for next season
Professional player contracts are to be introduced in English women's rugby for the 15-a-side game.
A total of 48 contracts will be available next season, including 16 full-time deals that will concentrate on the sport's 15-a-side element.
England Women first awarded contracts in October 2014, when 20 were given to sevens players only.
The new arrangement will also feature 16 part-time, three-day-a-week contracts with a sevens focus, with an additional 16 short-term deals that will allow players to attend residential camps ahead of major tournaments such as the World Cup and Six Nations, England Women announced.
It is all part of a drive towards England's World Cup defence next year.
Rugby Football Union chief executive Ian Ritchie said: " The RFU is committed to supporting the growth of women's rugby.
"We are immensely proud of England Women's achievements, and we want to provide the best support to continue this success.
"More women and girls in this country are playing rugby than ever before, and England Women are important role models to encourage more people to try our sport."
Full-time contract recipients will be announced in September, when the deals also come into effect, with the majority of players concentrating on 15s being released to play club rugby throughout the season.
RFU head of women's performance Nicky Ponsford added: "Th is is a really exciting time for women's rugby in England.
"We will have more contracted players than ever before to give us the best possible chance of retaining the World Cup in Ireland next August. We also recognise that the sevens' programme is important again next year, with the World Sevens series and qualification for Rugby World Cup Sevens in 2018.
"The girls have proven that they are among the best in the world, delivering consistent results across both the sevens and 15s games already this year, and we want to focus on building on that."