What we do know
Kazakhstan have high hopes of making it to their seventh World Cup. When they failed to get to Ireland in 2017 that was their first absence from the top table since independence. Last summer they beat China in a double header to qualify for the final stages of qualification in Asia. They now have to overcome Hong Kong and Japan. They have been handicapped by a lack of competitive rugby over recent years, but are still looking forward to success.
Darlington Mowden Park Durham Sharks have found it necessary to repeat their request for a new head coach. They advertised in early April, but a similar notice has been posted three months later.
More than one ex-Welsh international has expressed her astonishment at the WRU’s decision to appoint a new head coach for Fifteens and Sevens combined. Such a creature doesn’t exist, they claim. Major hoped-for contenders like Liza Burgess and Rachel Taylor are expert in 15s, but might need to revise hard about 7s.
France’s two head coaches, Samuel Cherouk (15s) and David Courteix (7s), have recently reinforced their policy of letting their squads train together. They and the players find it helps to widen their skill-sets. This attitude runs counter to many national policies.
There has been a wonderful selection of special teams chosen by leading figures in the game. The Women’s Rugby Pod led the way with a glittering series varying from All-Time World XVs to sides the guest had played with. It’s been especially instructive to hear names from the past brought up, reminding us that there were players in past decades just as outstanding as today’s crop. But they didn’t have the benefit of the publicity available in the 2020s.
Re-signings and Transfers:
Since mid-June a large number of players have changed clubs or signed on again. Sale have acquired Nicola Howat, Lucy Winter, Lisa Neumann, Hannah Birch, Megan Kirby, Hannah Kurtz, Teleri Wyn Davies, Mali Quaeck, Aimee Wallace, Kathryn Craine and Jessica Roberts. Most of these players come locally from Sale 1861, three from Wales and three from Scotland. Apart from the new player-coach, Katie Daley-Mclean, Darren Lamon hasn’t been able thus far to sign on any major international stars.
Three west country clubs have been busy (re-)adding Welsh players to their cast-list. Bristol, Gloucester-Hartpury and Worcester have nearly enough between them to complete two Welsh test sides. At least three, Jasmine Joyce, Alisha Butchers and Gwenn Crabb, have joined Bristol from Worcester. Sarah Bonar of Scotland (pictured above) has shifted from Loughborough to Glos-Pury.
More important for head coaches than these transfers are the players who have committed themselves to their club for a further season. The news has come in large dollops, for example, Mo Hunt, Zoe Aldcroft, Tatyana Heard, Kelly Smith, Ellie Underwood, Mia Venner and Millie Wood at Glos-Pury. This was especially significant as their head coach, Sean Lynn, has had minimal time to make his mark on the team since the new year. The Warriors have retained the services of Lydia Thompson, Laura Keates, Sioned Harries, Alex Callender, Akina Gondwe, Megan Varley, Cara Clarke, Cara Brincat, Vicky Laflin and Jade Shekels, among many others. There should be unparalleled competition for places in the Sixways side next season.
Giselle Mather reminded us that the new regulations for the Premier 15s allow for ten dual-registered players to supplement the forty limit for each club. They will tend to be pathway players, with their names still to make.
Clubs will have to get permission to set up a 2nd XV. It wouldn’t receive funding. The RFU policy on this crucial matter is less than clear. Development sides of the past three years have contained many players able to move into the elite team. If we assume 23 will be nominated for each game (not 22, as before), that leaves 17 unused plus the 10 dual-registered. Even allowing for inevitable injuries, that is a disturbingly large number. And less affluent clubs might have difficulty paying the costs of any 2nd XV matches they arrange.
Susie Appleby pointed out the difficulties of such an arrangement. A Prem 15s player not needed for the next match might have a long journey to find the nearest Championship club willing to accept the part-time presence of a dual-registered player.
Jo Yapp has five full-time assistants on the Worcester Warriors staff.
What we don’t know
There has been little news of players seeking new clubs at Championship level. Nor is it obvious how clubs at that level could hope to close the gap on the ten in the Premier 15s league.
What will happen to Saracens women when Allianz drop their connection? What will happen to Allianz Park?
Who will be England’s next forwards coach?
Will the World Cup be ready in time? – and, much more urgent, who’s got the 1994 World Cup trophy?
What is happening down Exeter way? There has been no news for quite a while. No sign of a twitter account or a women’s section to the main Exeter Chiefs website. Even their brand name, adopted in 1999, is now under urgent discussion.
Who will the new sponsor of the Premier 15s be? Bill Sweeney spoke optimistically about two strong bids form interested parties, but that was quite a while back.
Will the 2020 Six Nations ever be completed? What are the plans for rejigging it? Any sign of a sponsor on the horizon? There is a remarkable amount of discussion on this point; concerned observers all agree on its attractiveness, but nothing from the 6N committee.