The English women’s top flight returns this weekend – but it will look different

Law variations for new Premier 15s season

The Premier 15s returns this weekend with one new sponsor, two new teams and several law variations.

Allianz has replaced Tyrrells as the title partner of the English women’s top flight while Exeter Chiefs and Sale Sharks join the ten-team league in place of Richmond and Waterloo having succeeded in the tender process earlier this year.

Related: Allianz Premier 15s team-by-team guide

The biggest change, however, is to the laws matches will be played under. Unlike the Gallagher Premiership or Guinness Pro14, there is no Covid-19 testing programme in place for the Allianz Premier 15s, so a number of laws have been adapted to minimise face-to-face contact during matches and thus lower the risk of transmission.

These include reducing the number of scrums and mauls, as well as the length of mauls. For example, a maul can only stop once before the ball has to be used and teams can only drive a lineout inside the 22s.

Matches will also be 70 minutes rather than 80 due to the increased ball-in-play time with the changes.

Here are the Premier 15s law variations:

  • A play advantage law from a knock-on – reducing scrums by over 75%
  • Free-kicks awarded to the opposition for a forward pass – reducing face-to-face contact by 6%
  • Removal of the option for a scrum at a free-kick or penalty – reducing face-to-face contact by 7%
  • A maul may only have one stop then the ball must be used to reduce the length of the maul
  • No players who are not in the start of a lineout can join a maul to reduce the number of players in the maul
  • It will only be possible to drive a lineout in 22m to reduce the number of mauls
  • Strict social distancing while ball is out of play, including set water breaks, named bottles, limited face-to-face warm-up
  • Game time is reduced to 35 minutes each way to mitigate risk while also recognising the game will be faster with fewer stoppages and thereby supporting player welfare

These variations will be in place for at least the first nine rounds. They will then be reviewed at the season’s midpoint to determine whether to continue with the adapted measures or return to standard laws.

On top of the law changes, there are also strict medical and operating practices that Premier 15s teams must follow, including temperature checking and enhanced cleaning regimes, as part of the Government’s Elite Sport Return to Play Guidance.

The season will consist of 18 home-and-away rounds from Saturday 10 October, followed by semi-finals and then the final on 8 May 2021.

One match from each of the first four rounds will be live streamed on, Premier 15s Twitter as well as England Rugby’s YouTube and Facebook channels. They are:

Gloucester-Hartpury v Exeter Chiefs (Sat 10 Oct, 2.30pm)

Wasps v Harlequins (Sat 17 Oct, 2pm)

Worcester Warriors v Wasps (Sat 24 Oct, 2pm)

Loughborough Lightning v Harlequins (Sat 7 Nov, 2pm)

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