By Ali Donnelly

Women’s rugby in the Netherlands is preparing to turn professional this week with a fulltime programme beginning on September 1st.

Twenty-eight players are part of the programme which is split in two to focus on the Sevens and 15s game separately.

The Netherlands, who finished third at this year European Sevens Championships, are planning to enter 10 tournaments in the next year as they place a major emphasis on winning an Olympic medal in 2016.

Gareth Gilbert, who is leading the programme as head coach, explains what is coming up.

“We needed to finish top three at the Europeans in order to get funding and support from our Olympic foundation. We did manage to finish in the top three by beating Russia in the 3rd and 4th playoff. By doing that and getting the funding and support, we are now starting our fulltime programme where the players will train six days a week in Amsterdam.”

The Dutch coaching staff have split the players in two – 14 in the elite programme who will solely focus on the Sevens game, while there are also 14 in the development programme which includes athletes from a range of other sports such as judo, basketball and athletics. The players in the development group will be working on the 15s game but can also step up to the Elite tier of players.

Gilbert says that the Dutch Rugby Union have identified specialist coaches and administrators to come and support the programme as it moves from amateur to professional status.

“Our plan this season is to make sure we attend as many top class women’s tournaments as possible and to make sure we maintain and improve our status as top three in Europe.”

Holland will compete in the coming 12 months in a wide range of Sevens competitions around the world including in Dubai, LasVegas, Hong Kong, Japan, Amsterdam, Rome, London, Manchester, Bristol, New Quay and then the European Championships 2012. Players will also attend four tournaments with the likes of Spain, France, Portugal as they plan their comprehensive programme on the road to the 2016 Olympics.