Middleton reaping the rewards of full-time contracts for Red Roses

England head coach Simon Middleton and England's Sarah Hunter (Action Images via Reuters/Peter Cziborra)

Red Roses head coach Simon Middleton insists England Women are seeing “huge returns” since full-time contracts were reintroduced a year ago.

After being controversially scrapped following the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup, the RFU awarded 28 15-a-side players professional deals in January last year.

It was a landmark day for women’s rugby and Middleton is delighted to see his side reap the rewards.

England won 12 of their 13 matches last year with their only defeat coming against New Zealand in the Women’s Rugby Super Series.

The Red Roses stormed to Grand Slam glory in the Women’s Six Nations, scoring at least 40 points in each of their games – including an 80-0 thrashing of Scotland – before winning all their autumn internationals.

“The players are so committed to their performances and their development, particularly over the past year,” Middleton said.

“When there is an opportunity put in front of them like a full-time contract, they have embraced it massively and we are seeing huge returns in their athletic performance.

“When you see that commitment you just want to get behind them. They are great to work with.”

England will be looking to build on their stellar 2019 when they launch their Women’s Six Nations defence against France at the Stade du Hameau on Sunday (12.30pm GMT).

The box office encounter with the 2018 champions could prove to be a potential title-decider – and Middleton believes there is still plenty of room for improvement from his players.

“Our confidence is a product of some of the results we have had in the summer, the autumn and the preparation we have done,” Middleton said.

“But at the same time there is still a lot of improvements to come from our game. We are still building our performances, so we are really looking forward to playing in the Six Nations.

“We always gauge our success from our performances, so we want to improve game by game. That’s a massive thing for us.

“When you consider the nature of our first game against France it is a great challenge for us because we will need to play well to get an outcome that we want.

“But then we need to better that performance which will take a lot of effort and application.

“We have worked on a lot of things since the autumn and we want to see those things translate from the training field into match situations. That’s what we will gauge ourselves on.”