When Exeter Chiefs staged their first two games of the new era in February and March, we caught glimpses of the player-movements that will dominate the next few months till the new Tyrrells season finally begins.
Alongside less familiar names to play Newcastle Falcons and the British Army were: Garnet Mackinder and Hannah Duffy (both ex-Saracens); Ebony Jefferies, Charlie Budge and Cat McNaney (all Bristol and England U20s)and Sian Hobday (Richmond). Their captain was Jo McBain who played for England U19s in 2007. Both Kayleigh Armstrong (from Exmouth via Bristol) and Hannah Gascoigne (Exeter University and Bristol) have strong Devon connections.
From farther afield come Linde van der Velden (Castricum NL via Stade Toulousain and the Toresator sisters Paulina & Matilda from Sweden. Ambitious European players are still striving to find acceptance at elite level in England.
Two items underline the problems facing the newcomers to the Tyrrells. Susie Appleby admitted that she selected half-a-dozen 17-year-olds for the Newcastle trip (Chiefs won 27-10). Their loss 7-17 to the Army was a set-back. By way of comparison, the soldiers normally lose their annual match with the England U20s by a wide margin. (How would the youngsters fare playing a full-strength Tyrrells side?). So we can expect the transfer market to continue at full blast.
Sale’s preparations look to be some distance behind Exeter’s. Subject to the usual health provisions, they plan to hold trial sessions in early June, then select a squad (of 40) in July. That programme would surely make them the least well prepared club to take part in the Tyrrells. But they have one trump card up their sleeve.
Katy Daley-Mclean moves
The first major transfer headline is Katy Daley-Mclean’s appointment as player-coach at Sale Sharks. This is highly significant in a number of respects: she can bring her vast experience to bear on a newly minted team in great need of it; she can further her career beyond her playing days, and she will move halfway home, albeit to the other side of the Pennines. She sees it as a great chance to raise the profile of rugby in the north of England. No wonder Sale’s Head of Women’s Rugby Darren Lamon was so delighted. On the debit side it weakens Loughborough Lightning’s prospects more than they would care to think about.
They and the other student body, Gloucester-Hartpury, have produced fine young players, but the lack of enough highly experienced operators in their ranks has hindered their rise to the very top.
With the backing of Premiership clubs the two newcomers, Exeter and Sale, should have the financial security to attract more leading players to their strength.
Rugby in England is distinctly short of ready cash, from the RFU downwards. Exeter’ boss Tony Rowe has confirmed that the money the women’s section was promised is still there. But there is hardly another Premiership club in the land showing a profit, even before Covid-19 robbed the game of so much income.
This trend will widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots even further than over the first three years of the Tyrrells. While the RFU trumpeted the vast sums of money it was pouring into the enterprise, the bank balances of the ten clubs remained damagingly uneven.
There is no sign of this inequality disappearing over the next three years.