While applauding the introduction of Women’s Super Rugby I have to admit to being completely baffled about the way in which this new league had been introduced.
I should at this point state that these are my own opinions, that I am not an expert on any sport at all simply a fan; this website exists purely to promote women’s sport, and it is completely self-funded.
I can understand the desire to increase the Women’s Premiership from eight to ten teams but to my simple mind, the way to do that would be to include the top teams from both Championship North 1 and Championship South 1. Firwood Waterloo as Championship North 1 leaders have been included but so have Loughborough who currently sit in 5th position in the league. Whilst Championship South 1 league leaders Thurrock have been completely overlooked and Gloucester-Hartpury Women’s RFC who play in the Midlands Championship II are included. Even more confusing Lichfield Ladies are the only team currently playing in the Premiership to be left out.
RFU say there was a bid process and fourteen teams applied for just ten places in the new league, fair enough. An article on the RFU website just last October extolling the virtues of Lichfield Ladies, currently just one point behind Bristol Ladies at the top of the Premiership, would have indicated that they would be a shoe in but instead they will be relegated to the Championship after 15 years of playing Premiership Rugby.
To quote from the RFU piece:
Lichfield are making a huge impression on girls’ rugby from grassroots to elite level, on and off the pitch……..
The club’s player pathway is also thriving, with several players in their first-team squad having appeared in their junior sides.
The Midlands outfit have in their squad one of the world’s best women’s rugby players in World Cup winner and Team GB sevens captain Emily Scarratt.
The 26-year-old moved to Lichfield before the 2007/08 season to play for their senior side and has remained at the club ever since.
Scarratt cannot believe how far Lichfield has come since she joined, and that this season the club has a massive opportunity to win their first Women’s Premiership title.
“It’s massively developed since I first moved, they only had an U18s and a senior team then, now they’ve got seven female teams,” said Scarratt……..
This year Lichfield have contributed eight internationals to the Six Nations including for England: Emily Scarratt (63 caps), Justine Lucas (16 caps), Harriet Millar-Mills (40 caps) Amy Cokayne (22 caps), 21 Natasha Hunt (35 caps) – that’s a third of the team!
It can be neither coincidence or pure luck to have accumulated such talent in the side.
Now these players are all facing a huge dilemma; stay with the Club they love and put their international careers at risk or find another club.
Since there will be no promotion or relegation for two seasons then Lichfield are consigned to the second tier of English rugby for at least 3 seasons, very significant for players wishing to play at the highest level possible.
Such is the outrage at the way in which the heart has been ripped out of this club that a petition has been started on change.org which now has more than 4,000 signatures:
The RFU has done an enormous amount of work to encourage more girls and women to take up rugby but from an outsider it would almost seem as if the decisions have been taken on the Super Rugby League without actually taking into account the contribution being made of the existing clubs.
Of course there is precedent for this kind of thing as when the FA formed the Women’s Super League Doncaster Belles, with their great history of success in women’s football, were sacrificed for the newly formed Manchester City, is it wrong to expect more from rugby and better behaviour?
It’s tragic that a side that may win the Premiership this season will face relegation and that this summer’s 25 year anniversary for Lichfield may well be a much sadder event than originally planned.
Kudos to Director of Rugby Becky Williams for saying that the club will continue and will strive to keep playing at the highest level, but what a massive kick in the teeth.