A Look at the latest from Tigers and Trailfinders
The most fascinating detail about next season’s PWR league will be the regulations. For example, who exactly will be allowed to play? Of that we know nothing at present.
Coming second in the fascination stakes is the make-up of the two new clubs. Ealing Trailfinders and Leicester Tigers have little in common apart from their success in applying to join.
Tigers already had a team operating at Championship level, and it included a few names familiar from the Prem 15s like Lucy Nye and Becky Noon.
We now know their complete squad. It is:
Props: Leah Bartlett, Caitlin Clark, Georgie Grimes, Jade Jones, Churchy Knight (aka Rebecca Church), Keia Mae Sagapolu, Ofure Ugiagbe
Hookers: Alana Bainbridge, Amy Cokayne, Elis Martin, Samantha Williams
Second Row: Eva Donaldson, Ella-Mae Fereday, Charlotte Fray, Ali Gale, Catha Jacobs, Maddie Massey, Georgia Westwood
Back Row: Tanya Bird, Tahlia Brody, Roisin McBrien, Sydney Mead, Leilah Mills, Becky Noon, Amy Orrow, Morgan Richardson, Kat Turner, Zoe Warrington
Scrum-Halves: Lucy Nye, Amy Relf
Fly-Halves: Meg Jones, Ellie Turner, Holly Williams
Centres: Katie Childs, Abi Gordon, Natasha Jones, Francesca McGhie, Linzi Taylor, Evie Wills
Back Three: Tami Agboola, Lottie Bozon, Louisa Burgham, Bryany Chalk, Charlotte Daley, Molly Draycott, Zoë Evans, Tess Feury, Lucrezia Iavarone, Celia Quansah, Harriet Roberts, Amanda Swartz, Amelia Tutt
Key: the players in red were already established in the Welford Road fold. Those in black are the new signings. Bold type indicates Red Roses (15s and 7s).
That total is interesting in itself. When squad numbers were last altered three years ago, they were reduced from 60 to 40. The second teams were done away with.
Despite warnings that clubs would have to ensure increased numbers of England qualified players (EQPs), Vicky Macqueen’s list include plenty of Scottish and American players. The magnet of the top English league remains strong.
Ealing have had to start from scratch. Although they have two feeder academies at Brunel University and Henley College, those youngsters cannot ensure large numbers of players able to adjust to the demands of PWR rugby. As I suspected from way back, Giselle Mather has turned first to players under her care at Wasps.
Here is an ongoing list:
Abby Dow, Abi Burton, Cristina Branco, Elisa Riffonneau, Kie Tamai, Lauren Brooks, Liz Crake, Meya Bizer, Rowena Burnfield, Sophie Ragg, Tyson Beukeboom (Red Roses again shown in bold)
The striking signings include the promising young French hooker, Riffonneau, Tamai from Japan and Beukeboom, the highly experienced lock from Canada. Riffonneau appeared off the bench for France in three 6 Nations matches last spring. Branco is the Spanish captain, another ex-Wasp.
By my incomplete research, that makes three Red Roses at Welford Road, four at Vallis Way. If every club in the league held to that sort of figure, we could begin to look at a degree of equality. But of course it won’t happen.
It’s important that both the head coaches are women. For the first time women will outnumber men in this lead position. They are: Amy Turner (Quins), Jo Yapp (Worcester), Rachel Taylor (Sale, with Katy Daley-Mclean as Performance Lead) and Susie Appleby (Exeter), alongside the two newcomers, Giselle Mather and Vicky Macqueen, (though Mather is far from being a true newcomer, she’s just wearing a new hat!)
Mather is the most experienced of the ten coaches by a distance. Macqueen too has extensive inside knowledge of women’s rugby. (Contrast that with John Mitchell.)
In December 2022 Macqueen said: ‘We 100% believe we would compete at the bottom end of the Premiership with the squad we have’.
This shows a marked difference from Exeter’s approach three years ago. Chiefs set their eyes on the top of the mountain, before they’d even reached base camp. Can the recent signings help alter Macqueen’s modest predictions of last year? That’s the intriguing question.
Mather has (wisely?) not committed her club to an early target. Like Macqueen, she knows that early success will be hard to achieve. But Trailfinders are planning a gate of 2,000 for their opening match in November. That in itself would represent a huge change for Mather after her experiences at Twyford Avenue.
The Other Eight
It’s noticeable how much louder they are trumpeting the re-signing of players. To me that’s a sign of their anxiety to retain their current standing, as much as a thank you to them for their loyalty. An example: to welcome Lagi Tuima and Ellie Kildunne back into the family, Quins offer us five separate twitter entries, ten photos and a clip for both of them.