The Tyrrells Premier 15s season launched on Monday with players from all 10 clubs visiting Tyrrells Court Farm.
Clara Nielson [Bristol Bears Women], Mackenzie Thomas [Darlington Mowden Park Sharks], Rachael Thomas [Firwood Waterloo Ladies], Natasha Hunt [Gloucester-Hartpury Women] and Rachael Burford [Harlequins Women] all visited the Herefordshire venue to preview the forthcoming 2019/20 campaign alongside Rachel Malcolm [Loughborough Lightning], Hannah Field [Richmond], Sarah McKenna [Saracens Women], Kate Alder [Wasps FC Ladies] and Lyndsay O’Donnell [Worcester Warriors Women].
Looking ahead to the third campaign, which kicks off on Saturday 21 September, all representatives spent an afternoon at the farm, posed for photos and took part in media duties.
The first two seasons saw the division’s official Twitter and Instagram accounts grow to more than 10k followers combined while more than 90 players earned senior international call ups across the 10 teams.
RFU Head of Women’s Performance, Nicky Ponsford said: “It’s amazing that we’re already in season three – the first two seemed to go really quickly – it’s exciting to look at where we’ve got to and starting season three already.
“I think teams really know what they want to be delivering and have worked hard on their summer signings. Each team is going to be more competitive than they were last year, so I think we’re in a good place.
“The more competitive the teams are, then that’s ultimately where we want to get to, because every player has got to work really hard on the pitch, and everything they do counts to something at the end of the year.
“The whole league, the whole support that we’ve had from Tyrrells is fantastic in terms of helping to move the league forward. It’s nice to have a title sponsor for the league that’s now become really synonymous with the division. They’re a developing brand and it’s very much where we are in terms of the league and growing that, so I think there’s lots of positives moving forward.”
Sarah McKenna, who lifted the league title with Saracens last time out, added: “I’m incredibly excited for a new season, as always. In the off-season that boiling pot slowly builds up to the week before the game, so we’re just below boiling point at the moment, but raring to go when it comes.
“On the pitch the standard has gone up massively. Week-in-week-out, you’re having to do huge shifts one after another, and I think the depth in the squad comes through at that point. At the end of last season we were struggling because we had a couple of major injuries and had to shuffle people around. I know that we still came out strong at the end, but a few years ago we might not have had that depth, so it just goes to show – where the game has come from – that we can do that and so many other teams can do that too.
“I grew up going to watch a Saracens women’s game on a muddy pitch, standing on the side in wellies getting soaked, so it’s a massively different experience going to watch a women’s game now – a far more enjoyable one! A few years ago I probably didn’t think it would get this far, so it’s cool.”
All opening matches will be played on Saturday 21 September.
The holders kick off their campaign with a trip to Bristol Bears [KO 12pm], while Richmond make the short journey to The Stoop to face newly re-branded Harlequins Women [KO 2pm], runners-up for the last two seasons.
Elsewhere, last year’s semi-finalists Loughborough Lightning play at home against Darlington Mowden Park Sharks [KO 2pm] while Wasps FC Ladies are also at home to face Worcester Women [KO 3pm].
Firwood Waterloo take on Gloucester-Hartpury Women [KO 2pm] in the remaining opening round fixture.
Last month, the Rugby Football Union confirmed the process for finalising the next three-year structure of the league.
An audit will be independently verified and the clubs ranked from one to 10 based on the audit results.
Following this, the top six ranked teams will be invited to join the next three-year league structure covering seasons 2020/21 to 2022/23. The bottom four ranked teams will be invited to re-tender for a place in the competition should they wish to do so. At the same time applications for tender will open to all clubs that wish to apply.
All tenders will be assessed by a selection panel and a shortlist will be created.
Tyrrells Premier 15s is the top-flight women’s domestic rugby union competition in England. For all the latest news from Tyrrells Premier 15s, you can follow @Premier15s on Twitter and Instagram.
Courtesy of the RFU