Middleton believes the assurances of the contracts had a bearing on the well-being of players, meaning that they could train with more confidence.
“When you think about what the girls would have had to go through in lockdown but because they had their livelihood, they didn’t have to worry,” he said. “We were able to embed a physical training programme, which was bespoke to every athlete. They could practise in the mind that they would still be able to pay their mortgages or bills.
“So, the stress it took off them and allowed them to stay focused on rugby was important. We had virtual meetings with players every week to stay connected and stay tight as a group. No one ever knew the contracts would come into play for something like this, but it was huge in terms of being able to hold the squad together.”
Telegraph Sport understands this is not an advantage the French, who are on part-time contracts, had. Hence, one can see how England were able to beat them 33-10 in the usual fortress that is Grenoble’s Stade de France – the scene of England’s last defeat by France, which cost them the 2018 Six Nations title.
Alex Martin, the former Leicester Tigers head of physical performance, took over England Women’s strength and conditioning programme in August and has worked with Middleton to implement a new training system which puts players under greater pressure than they expect to encounter in a Test match. The aim is reclaiming the World Cup from New Zealand on home soil next October. England and Harlequins scrum-half Leanne Reilly said: “The fact that we are being able to train at a higher intensity than what some of our England games are and we are pressurising ourselves to leave everything on the pitch, whether it is in a training session or in a game, is really important.”
Middleton admits being full-time can give his side advantages over France, who they will also face in their World Cup pool. “Professionalism has allowed us to develop physically. That has been reflected in our games against France, we have beaten them in a number of games on the bounce. That is a product of being full-time,” he said.
“I know the French have a very good programme, but when you go into a full-time programme you start to get little advantages like strength and conditioning. When you go into the big games that are decided by one or two scores, you can have that edge and that is how it has panned out for us.”