After Saracens’ success in the inaugural Tyrrells Premier 15s final, Rugby World reflects on the impact of the new women’s competition
Tyrrells Premier 15s inspiring next generation
Given the energy she had just expended in the Tyrrells Premier 15s final, her succession of powerful carries ensuring Harlequins were far more competitive in the second half against Saracens, Shaunagh Brown may well have wanted to head to the changing rooms for a rest after the final whistle, especially as her efforts had ultimately been in vain.
Instead the Harlequins flanker was happy to catch up with some of the 2,057 fans who had headed to Ealing Trailfinders’ ground on Sunday afternoon for the inaugural Premier 15s final, which Saracens won 24-20.
One particularly telling moment came when a handful of Leek U15 players, who had been involved in a national final of their own earlier in the day, surrounded Brown and peppered her with questions. A few minutes later they walked away smiling, talking about how nice she was and clearly inspired by the conversation.
Similar encounters happened around the touchline after the trophy presentation, players catching up with friends and family as well as those who had simply come to watch a game of rugby. All would have left feeling entertained for the match had plenty of drama and skill, and Quins’ second-half comeback meant the result was in the balance right until the end.
Saracens prop Hannah Botterman, who was both a try-scorer and try creator in the final, summed it up well when she said: “To have this many people at a domestic women’s game is fantastic.”
Her captain Lotte Clapp also crossed the whitewash, cutting a brilliant line to take a pass from Zoe Harrison and score under the posts, and the wing is hopeful that the women’s game will continue to make strides forward.
“Lifting the trophy was the best feeling ever,” she said. “For the people who came to watch, hopefully we’ve got them excited and looking forward to next year, so it grows and grows. That’s what we want for women’s rugby.
“The game brings so much to me, it gives me so much confidence. It’s a great sport to be involved in and we want more people playing it and enjoying it. It’s very special.”
There’s no doubt the Premier 15s, a ten-team tournament set up this season and receiving £2.4m of investment from the RFU over three years, has helped develop greater strength in depth for the England national team, while the players are benefiting from better off-field support in terms of coaching, strength and conditioning, medical assistance and so on.
While professional contracts are set to return for England’s 15-a-side players in the lead-up to the 2021 World Cup, it is still likely to be several years before players are paid at club level. It may well be that semi-pro deals are introduced first as the key will be to make such a financial commitment sustainable and at the moment the clubs don’t generate enough money to do that.
Still, Wasps director of rugby Giselle Mather has been impressed by the rise in standards in the first season of the new league and points out that while 30 players may have benefited from pro deals last year ahead of the World Cup, the RFU’s investment is now benefiting 600 players across the clubs.
Mather, who is one of only three women to have the RFU’s Level 4 coaching qualification along with Susie Appleby and Jo Yapp, believes this is an exciting time for women’s team sport in the country.
“With the success in hockey, netball, rugby, cricket and football, team sport for females is cool,” says Mather. “Female sport is good to watch – it’s different but it’s really competitive. And we’re bloody good at it in this country, with world champions and gold medallists all over the place.
“The tipping point has been reached in women’s sport and it’s hugely exciting. If I was a young girl getting into team sport now, I’d be so excited because of the platform of five quality team sports who’ve all been successful.”
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