THE Welsh Rugby Union have announced the first 12 players to sign professional contracts.

Wales captain Siwan Lillicrap and Olympic sevens star Jasmine Joyce are among the group who have started 12-month deals this week.

Twelve players have accepted contracts – two more than originally announced by the governing body – and they will be based at National Centre of Excellence at the Vale Resort.

A second batch of 15 semi-professional, retainer deals will be announced at a later date.

Lillicrap is joined in going full-time by fellow forwards Alisha Butchers, Natalia John, Carys Phillips, Gwenllian Pyrs and Donna Rose while the backs are Joyce, Kiera Bevan, Hannah Jones, Ffion Lewis, Lisa Neumann and Elinor Snowsill.

Wales Women head coach Ioan Cunningham said: “It’s been a tough but enjoyable process. Credit to all the players who have given us selection headaches.

“We are all now super excited to get the programme started. Talent and ability was the first element in our selection process and then the potential growth of the individual player along with their attitude.

“We had to be fairly clinical and even ruthless. We clearly have short and medium term goals in terms of the Six Nations and the Rugby World Cup but we also have an eye on developing the best players for the future of Welsh rugby.

“Overall, we have gone for the players we feel could make the biggest gains at this time, not forgetting the contribution the players who receive retainer contracts will also make to the programme.”

The players will have weekly contact with Cunningham and his coaching and conditioning team.