As of 22 May we have learned of very few transfers to the two new Tyrrells clubs, Exeter and Sale.
The big news was Katy Daley-Mclean’s appointment as player-coach to the Sharks. Apart from her the only names revealed by the Sharks are Molly Kelly (RGC North Wales & Wales), Laura Perrin (Waterloo), Vicky Irwin (Cooke RUFC, NI), and Jessica Wooden (Richmond, USA). The Chiefs have acquired Garnet Mackinder and Hannah Duffy (both Saracens); Cat McNaney, Ebony Jefferies, Charlie Budge, Kayleigh Armstrong and Hannah Gascoigne (all Bristol) and some foreign signings.
Let’s assume there are other players to be announced in the fullness of time. But on the face of it, the two lists are distinctly short.
Now, in mid-May, Darren Lamon, the Sharks’ head coach, has sent out reminders about pre-season trials and open training sessions. Even if there had been no pandemic to worry about, would this timescale have been sensible in embarking on such a demanding adventure as the Tyrrells? It all seems very last-minute.
There is one excellent excuse: the difficulty of getting contracts agreed. How can a prospective player take a look over the ground, meet the staff and discuss terms, let alone sign the contract?
If the TP 15s manages to start promptly – say, 19-20 September – that leaves precious little time for those two clubs to set their house in order. There would be more breathing space if the new season was delayed some way beyond September.
The two clubs might not be expecting to enjoy an all-conquering start, but they would prefer to make their mark early. At least they know they have three seasons to establish themselves.
Meantime Worcester Warriors have announced a clutch of big signings, starting with Caity Mattinson and Paige Farries. Mattinson (Bristol) won a handful of England caps at scrum-half two years ago, then spent some time in Canada playing for Westshore. She was coached by Jo Yapp at Exeter University, so will no doubt be delighted to be returning to her company at Sixways.
Also crossing over from Canada is the impressive Maple Leaf Farries, who has caused England a deal of embarrassment on at least two occasions recently. A really quick right-winger, she may have to change shirt-numbers, as she can’t expect to dislodge Lydia Thompson from her traditional role as No 14.
Coming up from Bristol too are Amelia Buckland Hurry (seven years’ service with the Bears) and Flo Long. Warriors are already sure of Sioned Harries, Alex Callender and Laura Keates returning, so they must be confident of continuing the advance they made late last season. The Bears aren’t short of talent, but they can’t afford to go on losing players of this quality. Warriors have more signings up their sleeves. Jo Yapp has been busy!
We shouldn’t forget the reduction in squads from 60 to 40. Every player arriving at a new club adds to the number of registered players who will have to find a new home. The arithmetic looks like this: 200 players will have to move elsewhere, more if there are further signings from abroad, as is highly probable. Not only Development team players are involved here. At Sixways for example all these incomers may mean some of last season’s first team players will be displaced.
If clubs decide to retain a Second XV, as they are permitted to do, that would provide a welcome alternative to sad departures.
The Balance of Power
In its fourth season the new Tyrrells still splits up very unevenly. On the face of it, eight sides are tied in with Premiership clubs, but that is very misleading.
The closeness of the link to the parent club varies enormously. Only Exeter, Quins, Sale, Sarries and Worcester are likely to play most/all of their games on the home ground. Recently Quins have used their training base at Surrey Sports Park Guildford less and less. Bristol and Glos-Pury enjoy complicated arrangements with their men’s clubs, making only rare visits to Ashton Gate and Kingsholm.
Wasps’ position is the most misleading of all. The women’s section of the club stayed in London when the men migrated north to Coventry, so their ties are superficial.
The two remaining clubs, DMPDS (Darlington Mowden Park Durham Sharks!) and Loughborough Lightning go their own way. DMP have put out feelers to north and south, linking not only to Durham University but also to their Yorkshire Centre of Excellence.
Clubs that enjoy all the resources of the men’s club on hand have a huge advantage; the longer the season lasts, the greater that advantage becomes.
And then we come to the great unsolved dilemma: how do we even up the financial imbalances between clubs? The RFU has yet to explain.
It had been thought that the money offered to the women’s game was guaranteed by the RFU, but Nicky Ponsford’s comments on the Women’s Rugby Pod No. 36 were much more guarded.