Lorinda Brown is one of the contract players. Picture: Deryck Foster / Gallo Images

Johannesburg – Fifteen Springbok Women Sevens players have been awarded national contracts for the first time in its history, the SA Rugby Union announced on Wednesday.

“This is a watershed moment for women's rugby in South Africa,” Saru chief executive Jurie Roux said.

“It shows that we have faith in our players and that Saru is serious about women's rugby. We are determined to see the ladies excel on the international stage, and by raising the level of professionalism in the women's set-up we believe results will follow.”

This group includes star players Zenay Jordaan, Mathrin Simmers and Veroeshka Grain, who participated in the 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow as well as the 15-a-side Rugby World Cup qualifier against Uganda last season.

The contracts were handed out as the SA Women Sevens team prepares for the 2016 Olympic Games, due to be held in Rio de Janeiro.

Saru was the first national union to award full-time national contracts to the men's Sevens team in the 2008/2009 season, and since then the team has delivered consistent results.

Rassie Erasmus, Saru's general manager of High Performance, was equally excited about the decision to contract an elite group of players and he believed it would inspire more women to take up the sport with the aim of becoming professionals.

“Women's rugby worldwide has grown tremendously in the last few years and with the inclusion of Sevens rugby in the Olympic Games from 2016 we believe it will be even more popular in future,” said Erasmus.

“In line with this growth it was essential to align our structures with international standards in order to compete successfully against the best teams in the world. This is certainly a massive milestone for women's rugby in South Africa.”

Erasmus was also delighted about the residential programme, which involved 16 players being housed in Port Elizabeth, as it provided an ideal environment for the players to train and bond off the field.

“The residential programme, which was introduced last year, has already started bearing fruit as the South African Select Women's Sevens team finished as runners-up in the Dubai international invitational tournament in November last year, and hopefully the team will build on that performance this year,” said Erasmus.

“In the past, our women players had to train on their own and then assemble in short camps before matches, which was not conducive to consistent quality performances. These initiatives have definitely changed the face of women's rugby.”

The Springbok Women contract group: Nicolene Barendse, Siviwe Basweni, Lorinda Brown, Phumeza Gadu, Rachelle Geldenhuys, Nosiphiwo Goda, Veroeshka Grain, Zenay Jordaan, Jacqueline Kriel, Nomaphelo Mayongo, Nomsa Mokwai, Marithy Pienaar, Fundiswa Plaatjie, Mathrin Simmers, Voyulwethu Vazi. – Sapa