Now Northampton Saints have jumped on the bandwagon.
They announce a partnership with Loughborough Lightning which parallels the link between Leicester Tigers and Lichfield published last month – except that Lichfield had been rejected when the Premier 15s was set up in 2017.
Lightning are one of two campus-based clubs in the league, the other Gloucester-Hartpury. Despite that double-barrelled name, G-H are strongly based at Hartpury College. I sense they need to tighten their links to Gloucester as competition goes on increasing. It is vitally important that both these excellent clubs continue to flourish at elite level. Between them they have provided England with an endless roster of capped players.
But both need a constant topping up of experienced players to show the way to the talented youngsters developed through their systems. Lightning may have found a valuable answer to that problem.
A Geographical Puzzle
When Tigers announced their partnership with Lichfield, I wondered what the effect might be on Loughborough, just a few miles away. Now we know.
Neither of the twinnings is obvious geographically. Loughborough lies north of Leicester; Northampton well to the south. Lichfield lies 40 miles cross-country from Leicester. All four have their following, the men’s clubs far larger than the women’s of course. But how willing will the fans be to travel from the one centre to the other to see the women’s team play?
The easy way out?
Saints’ CE, Mike Darbon, had said it was a question of when, not if his club would set up a women’s section. I would offer the same comment to him as I did to Tigers: they are taking the easy way out, adopting a well-established Prem 15s club that has been regularly placed in the top four, rather than going to the bother of setting up their own structure.
The fear is it could become a takeover rather than an embrace of equals.
Matches will be shared between the Loughborough campus and Franklins Gardens. For how long will that arrangement hold? Probably for much longer than the parallel arrangement between those other two clubs, since Loughborough is a major sporting centre with wonderful back-up facilities on site.
Even so, they will be grateful for the extra input available to a famous men’s club, both in coaching and off-field resources.
The Saints’ badge will be added to the Lightning kit. We can only hope that that remains the case into the future. It seems a sensible compromise as the two clubs’ colours – purple and pink on the one hand, and black, green and gold on the other – would test our eyesight if a designer was employed to attempt a blend. A switch to Saints’ kit would be most unwelcome.
Sporting ambassadors are the latest thing; diplomacy reigns everywhere. At least Saints have nominated two who have a quite outstanding pedigree to spread the good word, Sarah Hunter and Emily Scarratt.
Whither the Premier 15s?
This latest development bring us another step closer to a professional league, dominated by Premiership clubs.
It may even help the RFU as it tussles with the mounting problems of deciding the shape of the Prem 15s’ next phase, due for the start of the 2023-4 season. Lightning can continue as a leading club with Premiership backing.
But it leaves DMP Durham Sharks even further out in the cold. Sooner or later, you feel, they must link up with their nearest big-hitting men’s club, namely Newcastle Falcons.