The Premier 15s are hoping to start the season on 10 October. This is heartening news for everyone concerned, especially the players. Getting fit for action is one thing. Knowing when your fitness is going to be needed is quite another.
Some limitations are suggested such as playing ‘local’ matches first where possible, and asking Premiership clubs to allow double-headers.
Local matches would be best for the clutch of three London clubs, a wider stretch for the three in the south-west (Bristol, Exeter and Gloucester-Hartpury) and trickier for the rest, most of all DMP, an important outpost in the north-east. But there, lockdown is a current reality.
In the forward planning much depended on the precise date the Prem 15s were found to be possible. If the first round had been delayed into the new year, then they could easily have been limited to a single fixture between clubs, leading to unwanted inequalities, for example a weaker side having to play two strong ones away.
On the other hand, might the season be extended far into the summer? Anything seems possible in these uncertain times. That move would find support from those who want to kiss goodbye to winter togs and mud, mud, mud.
As far as possible gaps are inserted in the programme for international games. England are booked in for three tests this autumn, the one remaining Six Nations and two against France. They are as likely to take place as the club games – with the proviso that conditions vary from country to country, as do governments’ reactions to them.
Will it prove possible to avoid clashes between club and international calls?
Double-headers remain a contentious matter
Before or after? Playing the women’s game after the men’s is the worse option. Nothing more demoralising than seeing a full house disappearing as you come out to play. The Red Roses have experienced this at Twickenham. Yes, a crowd of up to 13,000 is larger than anything most women rugby players are ever likely to encounter, but creates the opposite of the desired effect.
Then there is the question of the entry price. The only recent experience of a double-header at HQ with the women playing first involved the two Barbarians games. The RFU finds it possible to set its prices lower for a Baa-baas ticket than a full international. But people wanting to see only the women’s game would feel disadvantaged if asked to pay the full whack.
How practical would it be for the several Premiership clubs involved in the Prem 15s? (Bristol, Exeter, Quins, Sale, Saracens and Worcester). Most if not all are desperate for cash. So the chances are that it will cost far more than in the past to watch the women’s matches, unless they are scheduled second, in which case the doors could be left open for free entry. That has already happened at the Stoop.
10th October – yes or no?
Just as the happy announcement was made, the British government issued grave warnings about the nation’s health. Sport has suffered so many downturns over the last six or seven months that we shouldn’t be surprised by another. But the odds are against that 10 October date proving possible.