We look ahead to the first Tyrrells Premier 15s final, with Harlequins and Saracens bidding to lift the trophy in Ealing
Tyrrells Premier 15s final preview Harlequins v Saracens
The inaugural Tyrrells Premier 15s final takes place at Ealing Trailfinders’ ground in West London on Sunday afternoon and will see the defending champions go head-to-head with one of the dominant forces of women’s rugby in England – Harlequins v Saracens.
It’s set to be a tight match with England internationals sprinkled throughout both sides and honours even during the regular season. A Marlie Packer hat-trick helped Saracens beat Harlequins 28-19 at the Stoop in December while in the last league game, Quins pipped Sarries 32-29 at Allianz Park.
Saracens still topped the table, leading Quins by three points, but their statistics are remarkably similar. They both won 15 of their 18 games, Saracens secured 15 try bonus points to Quins’ 14 and scored 125 tries to Quins’ 122. Their top try-scorers are also back-rowers: Packer, with 20, for Saracens and Shaunagh Brown (17) for Quins.
Still, Saracens did have a more comfortable route to the final. In their two-legged semi-final, they thumped Gloucester-Hartpury 62-0 in the away game and won 45-26 at home for a 107-26 aggregate win.
Quins came through two tight encounters with Wasps, winning the first leg 25-19 before pulling clear in the second at the Stoop to triumph 22-7 thanks to the dominance of their pack.
Related: Danielle Waterman’s amazing cover tackle
We will find out on Sunday whether being ‘battle-hardened’ benefits the defending champions, but Quins loosehead Vickii Cornborough, Player of the Match in that second leg against Wasps, is looking to help her team exert authority up front.
“We want to get that go-forward, then our backs are dangerous out wide and through the middle,” says the England prop. “In the last game of the league against Saracens, everybody said we were underdogs, but to win shows what a dominant force we are when we put our minds to it.
“We’re by no means the finished article and the main thing to work on is consistency. We just need to put out an 80-minute performance.”
Scrum-half Leanne Riley describes the Quins pack as “ruthless” when they’re in top form and they will need to be to counter the Saracens forwards in general and the back row in particular in the final. Packer has formed a dangerous triumvirate with the Cleall twins, Bryony and Poppy, who have both scored 17 tries this season.
“We need to take their back row out of the game in attack and defence,” says Riley. “When we played them last time we brought a lot of speed and we need to shut them down early and put pressure on at the breakdown.”
Saracens captain Charlotte Clapp is primed for the physicality, saying: “It’s a huge day for women’s rugby. Both teams like to play out wide and run it around but I’m also expecting a real physical battle.”
Regardless of who lifts the trophy on Sunday afternoon, all the players speak in positive terms about how the Premier 15s is raising the standard of women’s rugby in England.
The RFU are investing £2.4m in the tournament over three years, with the focus on coaching, strength and conditioning, and medical support, and Cornborough believes it is delivering benefits not only in terms of English player development but attracting players to the league from overseas.
“We’re seeing the whole level of women’s rugby grow and grow and grow,” she says. “We’ve already seen this season amazing players coming through and coming into the England squad; young players are feeding into elite level rugby.
“It’s a top competition and other countries have players who want to come to live in the UK and play in the domestic league. Quins have two players from Sweden and Aldora Itunu has come from New Zealand, fresh from the World Cup. They give a different perspective and all the players are bringing something.”
There are still tickets available for the final. It’s £10 for adults while U16s can watch for free – visit englandrugby.com/tickets or tickets will also be available on the day – and if you can’t make it to Ealing, it will be televised live on Sky Sports.
Plus, there are two Girls’ National Cup finals before the main event: Leek v Kingsbridge in the U15s tournament at 11am and Newark v Pulborough in the U18s at 12.45pm.
Tyrrells Premier 15s final: Harlequins v Saracens
Sunday 29 April, 3pm, Ealing Trailfinders RFC, Live on Sky Sports
Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.