The Premier 15s first job is to catch up with its tail. Two games are slotted in on 2 January that were called off for reasons that don’t need explaining.
By a curious twist they involve clashes between the two at the top and the two at the bottom:
Harlequins v Saracens
DMPDS v Sale
Both kick off at 2 pm on Saturday.
The clash of the titans sees another Quins attempt to wrest the top position from Sarries’ grasp. They have to achieve it without Shaunagh Brown’s contribution; she can’t reappear till 23 January. For their part, Sarries have to make do without Hannah Botterman, who is injured. The question is: can the Quins forwards stay in the hunt for all 70 minutes? In the same fixture last year, a classic, the Sarries’ pack established a second-half domination that proved decisive.
For two sides with perfect records, an unbroken sequence of 5-pointers, this game presents a rare challenge. How do you deal with an opposition that can answer your strengths tit-for-tat? This season Quins’ pack have carried all before them, but will they be able to halt the juggernaut provided by Poppy Cleall, Marlie Packer and co?
We can find out via livestream, the nearest we can get these days to reality.
At the other end of the table Sale’s only trip northwards provides the Darlington side with a chance to show what they’re really made of. They have lost so many players from last year’s squad that they resemble both Sale and Exeter in their unfamiliarity with the elite level.
When we hear Katy Daley-Mclean and Abbie Ward reminiscing about all the losses they suffered when they played together for the Sharks, we realise what a long-term struggle it has been for them to pull through. The RFU’s hopes of evening up the nation’s playing strength have not yet begun.
Sale have already shown quite enough skill and know-how to make a first home win unlikely.
Even when those two games are completed, there will be more catching-up to do. Gloucester-Hartpury will play DMPDS on 30 January, the next gap in the calendar. After that the Six Nations, but we have heard nothing about arrangements for that major tournament. It’s supposed to start one week later.
This lack of news betrays more evidence of how unequal the operation is. While the Red Roses have been able to mount three autumn test matches, other nations like Wales have looked at a bare cupboard. Only their players in the AP 15s have had the chance to get some proper rugby under their belts.
In the plans set out at the start of the AP 15s programme, the law-amendments were due for review after nine rounds, that is up to December 31.
As things now stand, any switch back to normality seems most unlikely. So we will have to continue with ten minutes less playing time, multiple free-kicks and a game unsuited to players who want endless scrums and slow rucks.
Fortunately none of them exist in the Prem 15s (or they’re keeping very quiet about it).
We are still awaiting news of plans for a resumption of Sevens training for the Olympics. That will make a significant difference to the second half of the league, when some twenty players would leave their clubs. That would be a huge loss for the 15s game, but one of the sad effects of the plague has been the clashes of interests within the sport.