The women's top flight had record crowds, unprecedented coverage and ferocious competition – but there is still room to improve
What’s next for the Premier 15s?
The curtain closed on the most competitive Premier 15s season yet on Friday afternoon as Saracens secured their third title by defeating Exeter Chiefs.
The final was a perfect advertisement for women’s rugby. Stunning tries, crunching tackles and slick turnovers were broadcast on BT Sport and BBC iPlayer in a game where Marlie Packer starred in Saracens’ Premier 15s win.
As well as a dominant display, Sarries had more positivity as Georgia Evans returned. The Wales international broke her arm in February and played for the first time when she came on as a replacement in the final.
But it wasn’t all welcome returns at Sixways Stadium. Exeter’s Patricia Garcia took her final bow in a try-scoring performance. The Spanish international retired after the match and Chiefs head coach Susie Appleby was fulsome in her praise.
“She is a warrior,” Appleby said. “She’s an unbelievable athlete. Represents herself and her country to the highest, highest level. I am pleased she chose to spend the last bit of her career with us. It speaks volumes of who we are. She has left a massive legacy in Exeter alone, never mind Devon and Cornwall. I wish her all the best.”
The 2021-22 campaign was a thriller. Bristol were revamped and sat top of the table for a prolonged period. Loughborough Lightning began badly but fought back to race up the table. Wasps were hindered by injuries but still went well. And Saracens and Harlequins remained amongst the best of the bunch.
There were some clubs who struggled, DMP Durham Sharks and Sale Sharks among them. But on the whole it was a feast of rugby that fans ate up week in, week out.
To demonstrate just how close the campaign was, with two regular season matches to play five clubs were vying for the last three semi-final spots. Sarries had theirs wrapped in a bow but it came down to the penultimate round to decide the others.
As well as unprecedented competition, there was also more coverage than ever. The BBC streamed a game per round on iPlayer and premier15s.com broadcast more games than ever before.
There were also record crowds. Harlequins boasted a league record when they hosted Wasps at Twickenham and the final was played in front of the biggest crowd a Premier 15s final has seen.
“We need to make it the hottest ticket in town”
So what’s next for the Premier 15s? Slow and steady definitely wins the race, so while investment and more broadcasting needs to happen, it feels things are building at a sustainable rate. However, something which could help the league’s progression is promotion.
The Premier 15s final, while witnessed by a record crowd, could have had a lot more supporters at Sixways. The league needs to do more in terms of promoting ticket sales; when the same is done on the international level huge crowds flock to it.
That might be through social media but broadcasters could do their part too. The BBC advertised the Women’s Six Nations during half-time in a men’s fixture. If BT Sport advertised the Premier 15s game extensively during a men’s Premiership match with ticket details it could spread the word further.
It is difficult to know the right way forward. After the final, the press asked Saracens head coach Alex Austerberry about making the league professional and what needs to be done to increase crowds.
“This was an outstanding occasion – 3,000 in the crowd – we have to get that up,” he said. “This has to be the hottest ticket in town. If we can build the viewing figures that is what’s going to take this sport to the next level and the space it needs to be in.
“I hope the people who have more business intellect than me will get there sooner rather than later. It’s important we do it in the right way and that it’s sustainable. It’s the perfect storm for me.
“We’ve got a World Cup (in October), we’ve got great crowds, we’ve got a home World Cup (in 2025), why can’t we get there now? That’s the challenge to the people who sit around (the table).
“It’s a challenge for all the clubs to work together and the wider sport. How can we make sure that this is given the platform it truly deserves?”
It seems that is the question on everybody’s lips.
Another element of the league which will be a part of the upcoming season is the re-tendering process. The Premier 15s goes through three-season cycles and revamps the clubs involved. In the last cycle Exeter and Sale replaced Richmond and Firwood Waterloo.
The RFU will be deliberating on who will retain their places but another idea that should be discussed is promotion and relegation. In order to develop the game teams in the Championship should have the opportunity to move up to the top flight, rather than having to wait three campaigns.
In addition the threat of relegation could improve the form of those clubs at the bottom of the table. For example, DMP were struggling in the season before the last re-tendering campaign but they knew they had to have results to stay up and were sixth when the decision was made. Since then the side have been at the bottom of the table, with no wins in this most recent campaign.
Promotion and relegation would give the league more life year in, year out. It should start after the next re-tendering process.
Let us know what you think the next steps for the Premier 15s should be by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or getting in touch via social media.
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