HEAD coach Ioan Cunningham admitted it was a “tough but enjoyable process” to decide which 12 members of his Wales women squad should get professional contracts.

The first group of full-time players have signed deals with the Welsh Rugby Union with a second batch of 15 retainer contracts to be announced at a later date.

The chosen 12 have already started work at the National Centre of Excellence in a challenging year that builds towards the World Cup.

Cunningham said that he had to be “ruthless” when choosing who to first negotiate with over going pro.

Here the coach outlines why he plumped for his group of 12…

South Wales Argus: DELIGHT: Wales celebrate Carys Phillips' try in the autumn win against South AfricaDELIGHT: Wales celebrate Carys Phillips' try in the autumn win against South Africa

“Props Gwenllian Pyrs and Donna Rose are both dynamic ball-carriers, Carys Phillips is an exceptional talent as a throwing hooker, Natalia John has a huge workrate and was one of our stand-out performers of the autumn.

“All these front five players have huge potential and getting them into a full-time, professional programme will make a huge difference from a strength and conditioning perspective, along with the technical side of their game.

“In the back row, Siwan Lillicrap and Alisha Butchers are both excellent rugby players and great leaders on the pitch.

“Alisha has a fantastic skill-set, Siwan is our captain and has an amazing understanding of the game. Both deserve this opportunity to improve further physically and technically.

“We wanted to include two full-time scrum halves in the group and we feel Keira Bevan and Ffion Lewis will complement and challenge each other within the environment.

“Keira is very sharp, Ffion identifies running opportunities and we want to develop them both to be two of the best scrum halves in the world.

“Elinor Snowsill is an experienced player, understands the game brilliantly, and being part of a full-time environment will help her make a bigger impact in the game physically and provide the opportunity to hone key skills at outside half.

“Hannah Jones loves the physical side of rugby and leads defensively from the centre, Lisa Neumann is a powerful, attacking runner and Jaz Joyce’s talents are clearly already world-class with one of the best strike rates in world rugby, but having these players in full-time will give them a chance to develop all aspects of their game and become even better athletes and rugby players."