A NORTH-East rugby player who recently lifted the women's World Cup has been rewarded with a professional contract.
England captain, Katy McLean, is one of 20 players who have been signed up by the Rugby Football Union (RFU), allowing them to train full-time.
The 28-year-old, who plays for Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, led her team to victory in Paris earlier this month by beating Canada 21-9 - their first world cup final victory since 1994.
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Like the rest of the squad, Katy trained in her spare time and around her job as a primary school teacher at Bexhill Academy, in Sunderland.
However, she is expected to give up her job in October – a decision she has not taken lightly.
“It has been one of the biggest decisions of my life,” she said.
“I absolutely love my job and have had amazing support from the school – I couldn’t have asked for a better employer.
“I have been so lucky in terms of them letting me do what I do.”
The groundbreaking move will allow the players to train five days a week throughout the season at Twickenham Stadium and Guildford's Surrey Sports Park, where they will receive medical, nutritional, lifestyle and psychological support.
The players will form a fully professional England Women's Sevens squad for the forthcoming season, building up to the discipline's Olympic debut at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Katy said: “It is absolutely amazing. I am 28 and I have always aspired to be a professional rugby player, but I never thought it would happen in my lifetime.
“It isn’t just good for women’s rugby, but women’s sport as a whole.
“If we can inspire five girls to pick up a rugby ball then it is a job well done.”
The RFU’s head of women's performance Nicola Ponsford and England Women's Sevens head coach Simon Middleton will lead the new programme.
"We are really excited by the opportunity and feel that this will enable us to compete on a global level,” said Ms 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.”