Richmond's chances of retaining their women's Premiership title this season have been handed a major boost with six players being handed full time contracts with the RFU.

Natasha Brennan, Alexandra Matthews, Francesca Matthews, Claire Allan, Joanne Watmore and Abigail Chamberlain were all named in the 20-strong centrally contracted England Sevens squad this week.

It is the first time the women's game has had fully paid professionals with the historic move aiming to help the sevens set-up secure qualification for the 2016 Olympics.

The programme will be run by the RFU’s head of women’s performance Nicola Ponsford and England women’s sevens head coach Simon Middleton.

The players will still be expected to play international 15s rugby as well as represent their clubs in the women's Premiership.

"We are delighted to be able to offer a full time Sevens programme for next season. We are really excited by the opportunity and feel that this will enable us to compete on a global level," said Ponsford.

"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.

"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 while 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."