The New Season draws closer
As the proposed starting date for the Premier 15s draws ever closer, tension increases and good news tussles with bad.
Fiona Tomas (The Daily Telegraph, 1 October) hints the RFU is on the point of announcing a sponsor. That will bring a huge sigh of relief all round. If it comes to fruition, it will arrive before another sponsor-hunt reaches its quarry – the Women’s Six Nations. They have appointed the sponsorship agency CSM Sport and Entertainment to look for commercial partners to support the tournament.
Much will depend on the nature and scope of the new sponsorship. Tyrrells remained a hands-off support to the league established in 2017. We must hope that its successor will prove far more active in its approach.
That need is highlighted by the RFU’s statement that they have had to reduce funding for the Premier 15s. Each club will receive £56,250, a significant cut from the £75,000 originally expected. Treasurers will have to work out where further savings can be made. The new-look Prem in its second incarnation was already threatening to stretch the ten clubs’ resources to the full, as standards and expectations were bound to rise on and off the field. Tomas offers a figure of £500,000 needed to cover the clubs’ total requirements.
At the time of writing, seven days remain to the opening weekend. For that to happen we’ll need such tiresome details as fixtures and referees. If the proposal to limit travel goes ahead, we’re likely to see only a handful of matches published. London and the West Country would be the likeliest of the locations. The news of two Premiership games being called off this weekend places much graver doubts on a safe Prem 15s start as planned.
The Red Roses guaranteed
Fortunately the Red Roses’ contracts have been safeguarded; they will remain as before. That at least fulfils the RFU’s promise of giving the women’s game top priority. But until grounds are allowed to fill with spectators again, even those contracts will be jeopardised. And it is Twickenham Stadium above all that needs to return to normal as soon as possible.
Clubs have continued announcing new signings.
Exeter have acquired four Welsh players, Meg Davies, Ffion Lewis (13 Welsh caps), Abbie Fleming (2 caps) and Niamh Terry (2 caps). They have just announced Linde van der Velden as their captain. The 25-year-old Dutch international has already captained the Oranjes, but this appointment will really bring her to everyone’s attention.
Sale have been busy: they have signed Katie Crute from Novocastrians; Hannah Field from Richmond and Jamie-Leigh Bellerby from Waterloo.
Jess Wiesheu has moved from Worcester to DMP. It was a surprise to see this described as their ‘first signing this season’. She was quickly followed by Maelle Picut from Hong Kong and Tiana Gordon from Wasps.
Three signings from the top half of the league: Saracens have gained Fi McIntosh, an England U20 lock from Richmond, and Georgia Evans who hails from Pontyclun Falcons. Gill Bourke moves from Quins to Loughborough where she intends to do a master’s.
As we tot up the many close-season moves, the vast number leaving Richmond and Waterloo make their plight clear. It mirrors what happened to Lichfield three years ago. Little point in listing all the international players to have represented the three clubs. Richmond alone can claim 109.
One more sad retirement to note: Ceri Large has hung up her boots. She had a distinguished career involving 52 caps for England. She played in the 2014 World Cup and was a leading player (mostly at fly-half) at Worcester and lately Gloucester-Hartpury. Like Mo Hunt she hails from Drybrook in the Forest of Dean, who can be proud of their two international stars.
A Major new Initiative
That remarkable rugby player and innovator, Rachael Burford, was not satisfied with establishing her Burford Academy and the highly successful Women’s Rugby Pod (with Johnnie Hammond); now she has launched a Girls Rugby Club (girlsrugbyclub.com) which will reach right round the world. Its scope is immense; its influence likely to be even greater. Burford had already won the IRPA Special Merit Award from World Rugby back in 2017. After undertaking this mammoth task what further honours could possibly lie in store for her?
And more Good News
Artie Wynne Alphonsi becomes the second offspring of major England backrow stars to come into this world recently, after Marlie Packer announced a happy event.