Exeter Chiefs were delighted to win entry to next season’s Tyrrells Premier 15s. But now the hard work begins.
They are looking abroad for players to fill their ranks. Head coach Susie Appleby has mentioned Holland, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand and the USA as likely sources of material. But Covid-19 is not helping to advance arrangements.
The club is appealing to members to offer accommodation to these overseas players. They and the rest of the squad will be engaged on semi-professional terms.
Two thoughts: what balance will finally be struck between home-grown and foreign imports in the Chiefs’ XV; and what guarantees did the RFU demand from the club about its playing strength?
All the Tyrrells clubs have been glad to welcome players from abroad to strengthen their performances. But no-one can claim that English-qualified players have been sidelined as a result, as has happened dramatically in other sports.
When Lichfield failed to gain admittance to the Tyrrells camp in 2017, playing strength was the last thing the club needed to worry about. Just a taster of some club-members from the past decade to run out against the Harlequins and Saracens of 2021: Aitchison, Beale, Cokayne, Crowley, Fleetwood, Hunt, Hunter, Lucas, Millar-Mills, Rozario (Gullliver), Scarratt, Wood and Williams – that’s around 500 England caps and currently one leading Sevens player.
It would be interesting to know the RFU’s view of these central matters. A professional approach is preferred. The availability of money is a plus. But the ability of a club to produce outstanding players evidently less so. The other club to miss out in 2017 was Thurrock. Though their cast-list was less glorious than Lichfield’s, they could boast Emily Scott, Heather Fisher, Kay Wilson and Rachael Burford among their recent members.
A reminder: the two basic requirements for acceptance into the new-look Tyrrells were reaching Minimum Operating Standards and the on-pitch performance.
In the case of Exeter and Sale that crucial second category had to be taken entirely on trust. The assumption must have been that they would both have the wherewithal to acquire players to achieve the standards demanded in such a strong league. The RFU could take it for granted that the support staff would be able to knock the new players into shape in double-quick time.
At a parallel stage in September 2017 three clubs came new to the elite level, Gloucester-Hartpury, Loughborough Lightning and Firwood Waterloo. The two educational establishments boasted a fine tradition of producing outstanding young players and would be in the hands of two experienced coaches, Susie Appleby (ex-England international) and Rhys Edwards, recently the Welsh head coach. They welcomed back several top-class alumnae who had learned their trade there such as Sarah Hunter (Lightning) and Mo Hunt (Hartpury).
Loo were the only club to gain admittance from a lower league. After three years endeavour they have been found wanting. Exeter and Sale were in a not dissimilar position as regards playing strength. The difference is the professional set-up behind them; they have the resources to attract quality players to their ranks. Katy Daley-Mclean and Molly Kelly are probably only the first of many who will find their way to them in time for next season.
Without those additions they could find life a struggle.