Source: Harlequins

PWR – Round Two Preview

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First, news of midweek signings: both Tori Sellors and Paige Farries have found sanctuary at Saracens after losing their club Worcester Warriors. A moment earlier Akina Gondwe, who made a parallel move, had her temporary loan altered to a full-time engagement.

Now comes the tricky bit. Alex Austerberry welcomes Sellors to the fold, saying she will be able to learn much from the two established nines, Leanne Infante and Ella Wyrwas, both current Red Roses. Very true, but the question arises: when will she be able to put these learnings into practice?

Will either of the other two be happy to stand down in her favour for a weekend match? Hard to imagine the answer is yes. Infante has been missing from parade for a long while and Wyrwas needs every opportunity to underline her right to more England caps. In R1 OPTA tells us Infante played 59 minutes, Wyrwas only 21.

Likewise the talented Maple Leafs’ right-winger Farries now competes with a star-studded back line including Lotte Clapp, Jess Breach, Sophie Bridger and Coreen Grant. With Zoe Harrison likely to be the permanent first-choice at 10 from now on, that means less room in the centre and wing positions for all the contenders. OPTA again: Sydney Gregson (centre) made the most line- breaks last weekend.

This is a roundabout way of asking: at what stage will the authorities need to decide who moves where? Such a step is fraught with difficulties, but the present situation means that a few of the nine clubs (four, by my calculations) will grow yet stronger, the others weaker. and players of Farries’ standing, already restricted by the NEQP regulations, will have even less game-time guaranteed them.


Caity Mattinson has joined Gloucester-Hartpury. She might well have preferred to join Sarries, but the matters touched on above show how unworkable that would have been. At the Alpas she has to compete with the co-captain Mo Hunt and Bianca Blackburn, another ex-Red Rose, for a place. Scotland need her to be as active as possible pre-6N.

And more: Lisa Cockburn (Scotland) and Sarah Nicholas have just joined Leicester Tigers from Worcester.


The loosening of national eligibility rules was widely welcomed; several players with England caps chose to take advantage. Now their position looks bleaker; their chances of weekly selection grow slimmer. We have yet to see the next possible change: a player wishing to revert to her former status.

And more generally

With managements having to play canny over the restricted use of NEQPs, we may see plenty of team changes for Round Two, simply to give worthy players a chance to get their boots dirty. With such large squads in place that’s going to be a constant problem, unless unwanted injuries make the task easier.

Trailfinders knew from the start the the fixture operator had an acute sense of humour; two home games on the trot – very kind. But against their two London rivals, both trophy winners – hoho. If Elisa Riffonneau is picked for TF, she will become a very rare current French cap to appear in the Prem 15s/PWR. Gaëlle Mignot had a season at Richmond, but I suspect she was already a back- number in the selectors’ eyes; she didn’t reappear for Les Bleues when she returned to Montpellier.

The big clash is reserved for Sunday, as Bears need to keep their run to the title going in the bearpit that is Sandy Park. But I feel they will carry all before them; they have the launch-pad of the strongest front-row in the country, plus great talent everywhere you look.

Gloucester-Hartpury can at last get a game, and they are a safe home bet against Tigers, who, despite scoring 27 points at home to Chiefs, learned that attack is only half the game; they shipped 44. We have yet to see whether G-H can recapture their top form of last season.

Sale’s performance this season will be crucial for the well-being of women’s rugby in England. Now that they represent the whole of the north country, it will mark a sad downturn if they cannot prove to be leading challengers for a title over the next season or two. The tendency is still for players to move south to further their ambitions. Detysha Harper and Mowenna Talling have reversed the trend, but their example needs to be followed.

The big four this season are going to be Glos-Pury, Sarries, Bears and Chiefs. I hope that won’t become all too clear through TNT’s choice of TV coverage week by week.

Team of the Week (Round One)

This team, selected by OPTA, gives us the best overall picture of achievements across the four matches. It’s rewarding to see so many younger, less familiar players names here. Only three are NEQPs; only six have gained England caps.

15 Lovibond 14 Bonner 13 M. Jones 12 Bridger 11 Westcombe-Evans 10 Nelson 9 Infante 1 Gondwe 2 Campbell 3 S. Brown 4 Antwis 5 Millar-Mills 6 De Goede 7 McLachlan 8 Nigrelli

Round Two Fixtures:
Saturday 25 November

Loughborough Lightning bye
Trailfinders Women v Saracens, 16.45
Gloucester-Hartpury v Leicester Tigers, 17.30
Sale Sharks v Harlequins, 19.00

Sunday 26 November

Exeter Chiefs v Bristol Bears, 12.30 TNT

I’m afraid byes will continue like a running sore through the season. One effect is to cram yet more talent into fewer clubs.