The newly conceived PWR was announced with such high hopes. An improved version of the Premier 15s would look forward to an even stronger league with enhanced backing, better coverage and higher onfield skills. Two new clubs, Trailfinders Women and Leicester Tigers, came in to replace Wasps and DMP Sharks.
The agreement with TNT to show one match per week is a huge step forward. The lucky pair to find favour first are Bristol and Sale.
But one glance at the fixtures below reveals that not all the aspirations have been realised. Gloucester-Hartpury have a bye; only nine clubs are left in the mix.
No need to retell the demise of Worcester Warriors, but their disappearance along with those other two relegated clubs offers an insight into the fragile foundations on which the enterprise still exists.
The picture in men’s rugby is scarcely better, so the RFU has massive problems in finding lasting solutions to present worries.
For the moment we can look forward with excitement to the first weekend of games in this new era.
It all starts this Saturday!
The two newcomers both have home fixtures. They are hoping for big attendances to see their sides off to a boisterous start. They can expect little generosity from their opponents. Chiefs have one constant goal in mind, to become champions; Quins, once champions in their own right, enjoyed a less than productive season last time out and will be intent on putting matters right.
The other two matches look like home bankers. Lightning have a new coach in place, Nathan Smith.
Their performance last year was a worrying downturn on their previous record; they were denied the presence of both Emily Scarratt and Helena Rowland for long periods. Scarratt is making a careful recovery from a neck operation; Rowland showed in New Zealand that she was back to her best form.
But Morwenna Talling, another to shine in the WXV, has moved to Sharks, and Sadia Kabeya was also missing from roll-call in New Zealand. Lightning lacked sufficient reserve strength to overcome these absences. Will their Scottish internationals be able to improve results after the boost they received in WXV2?
Sharks face a tough visit to Bristol. They have acquired the services of Talling and Detysha Harper, another recent England cap, but the club’s combined strength doesn’t look up to holding a Bears’ squad whose aims are as ambitious as Chiefs’. They have assembled a group that looks perfectly capable of walking off with the trophy for the first time. Abbie Ward is threatening to join in the fun again at the earliest opportunity. Bears have sold 2,000 tickets five days before kick-off.
Needless to say, Sarries have a squad to envy. Much will depend on how quickly Zoe Harrison can be restored to full fitness; they have lost the services of Holly Aitchison as an outstanding replacement at No 10. But their opening bout against Lightning may not be the last to show how one-sided games in the PWR may prove.
Red Roses and all
The all-conquering Red Roses squad have returned home. It remains to be seen how many of them will be included in the first round. Their mere presence at training sessions will have been a huge fillip for the rest of the squad. All nine clubs have representatives returning, but as usual in very unequal numbers.
They have retained many NEQPs (non-England qualified players) too. Selectors’ choices will tell us what they think about the relative standings of these leading players.
All manner of new faces will be on show, some simply wearing a different shirt, others brought in to complete the two new clubs. Trailfinders alone are offering players from Canada, France, Ireland, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa and USA.
Glos-Pury, who have to wait a week to start their engine, will face newcomers Tigers at Kingsholm. That should set them on their way to retaining their hold on the trophy, but the competition will be even tougher this time round.
The Allianz Cup, brought forward into the gap caused by WXV, gave selectors the chance to cast an eye over possible combinations. Their final choices will offer a pointer to how the season will work out.
Fixtures for Saturday 18 November:
Bristol Bears v Sale Sharks KO 12.30
Saracens v Loughborough Lightning KO 14.30
Trailfinders Women v Harlequins KO 15,00
and Sunday 19:
Leicester Tigers v Exeter Chiefs KO 15,00