Premier 15s season preview: A few thoughts on every team
This weekend sees the return of the Allianz Premier 15s and for the first round every game is available to stream! Champions Harlequins will find out that heavy hangs the head that wears the crown. Saracens Women will be looking to get the trophy back in their own cabinet and plenty of other teams will want to push both clubs out of the final game for once! We have a look at all the teams, their round 1 team selections and point out a few players to keep an eye on over the season ahead.
With four games on Saturday and one on Sunday we’ll run through team by team in order of kick off. You can see the fixtures below and every game can be streamed live at www.premier15s.com
Sat 4 Sep
Bristol Bears v Exeter Chiefs (12pm)
Sale Sharks v Worcester Warriors (1.30pm)
Wasps v Saracens (3pm)
Gloucester-Hartpury v DMP Durham Sharks (4.30pm)
Sun 5 Sep
Harlequins v Loughborough Lightning (3pm)
Bristol Bears Women
It’s been all change at Bristol Bears as Dave Ward has joined the club. His wife Abbie, unsurprisingly, also decided to take a trip up the M4 to Shaftesbury Park. Bears showed glimpses of being a very good team last season, with some standout moments including a try from Simi Pam that will be on highlight reels for years to come.
The biggest questions about the Bears were generally what they would do if they lost key figures in their squad. They’ve definitely improved on depth in a few key spots, notably at scrum half where Leanne Riley gives them a world class player to dictate the game. They’ve also worked well to cover their losses. Long-time captain Clara Neilson moving to Exeter could have been a big blow but Hannah West is an excellent signing to replace her and also provide front row versatility.
Player(s) To Watch: The return of Sarah Bern after a torrid time with injury will be huge for Bears. She’s strong at set piece and lethal in the loose. Jenny Hesketh is a very exciting young talent to keep an eye on, excelling at football as well as rugby, she has chosen to focus on the oval ball game and has an impressive step and some real pace!
Exeter Chiefs Women
After an impressive first season which saw Susie Appleby’s team just miss out on the play offs. Exeter will be a solid bet to go one better this year. Appleby has assembled a cosmopolitan squad packed with talent and this season has bolstered them with some strong additions.
Clara Neilson comes in from round 1 opponents Bristol and adds leadership and experience to the forward pack as does the hugely underrated Daleaka Menin, one of those players who never seems to have a bad game!
Player(s) To Watch: Flo Robinson and Merryn Doidge were both involved in Six Nations squads this year and, despite their youth, play the game as if they were born to it. They’re aided in the backline by USA Eagle Gabby Cantorna who is a fine fly-half and an even better inside centre, with a dangerous boot.
Sale Sharks Women
Last year’s other debutant club didn’t fare quite so well in their first season, but they certainly showed hints of what they are building. Katy Daley-Mclean is now in a head coach type role as well as pulling the strings for the club at 10 and they’ll look to take steps this season to improve but seem to be working to a longer-term vision for success.
Much like Bristol, there are some questions over the strength in depth at Sale but they have some young talent coming through and veteran signings like Leah Lyons will only assist that growth. Of course the biggest question is how many times I will get confused by the club having two players named Vicky Irwin!
Player(s) To Watch: Mhairi Greive gets the attack started well at scrum half and England 7s wing Jodie Ounsley is a deadly finisher!
Worcester Warriors Women
No team is more interesting this season than the Warriors. For me the way Jo Yapp has patiently added pieces and built up her team has been fascinating to watch.
Japanese fly-half Minori Yamamoto is an intriguing addition who comes with a high pedigree and loves to get involved in play as well as having a strong kicking game. Sioned Harries is an excellent leader and along with captain Lyndsay O’Donnell helps bring Worcester’s young talent into the game.
Player(s) To Watch: Meg Varley is an exciting centre who has a good chance of an England call up in the coming years. New winger Evie England comes highly recommended by Yapp herself and is reportedly lightning fast!
You know what you’re getting from a Giselle Mather team right? Flowing, attacking rugby with some wonderful tries. Increasingly Wasps are adding grit to their game too and are happier to take on opposing forwards and wrestle away the ball.
Bryony Cleall’s signing is a huge state of intent and she’ll anchor the Wasps pack as well as providing a spicy subplot to week 1 of the season as she faces off against her twin. In the backs captain Kate Alder is one of the classiest operators in the league. A menace on the field and a delight to speak to off it.
Player(s) To Watch: We’ll stick with the front row. Maud Muir is a huge talent and just missed out on an England cap during the six nations. With Cleall involved now, Muir can focus more on playing at hooker and get stronger still. Ellie Boatman can play outside centre or wing and is a sily runner who makes everything look easy.
The two-time champs have sensibly elected not to blow things up this off season. Alex Austerberry has seen a few players move on and has signed some strong replacements, but the core of the team remains the same.
Rocky Clark continues to turn back the clock while there isn’t a better flanker pairing in the league than Marlie Packer and Vicky Fleetwood. The you have Poppy Cleall at 8, possibly the best in the world right now and a dominant presence in every game she plays.
Player(s) To Watch: Young scrum half Ella Wyrwas came through the Saracens system before moving away for game time. She’s back now and ready to take ownership of the 9 shirt. She’ll have a fight on her hands as US international Carly Waters has been brought in too. It’s an impressive pair of options to act as the fulcrum for the team’s attack.
It just wasn’t Gloucester’s year last time out. Every time they gained momentum, they seemed to lose a key player, whether it was talismanic 9 Mo Hunt or Zoe Aldcroft who binds their forwards together, figuratively and at times literally.
As Mo pointed out at the season launch, the return of scrums is a huge opportunity for Gloucester to bring their dynamic wingers into play and Hunt will make the most of that!
Player(s) To Watch: if I was building a team Hannah Jones would be one of the first players I’d try to sign. Whether at 12, 13 or wing she’s a quality operator who would make any side better. Emma Sing is one of Glos-Hartpury’s impressive outside backs and a dangerous counter-attacker from full-back.
DMP Durham Sharks
DMP has a torrid time last season, snatching their only win in the final weeks and having huge scores put on them. Mark Luffman, the former Red Roses forward coach has joined as DoR and his first job will be to salve some of the battle scars the team are carrying.
For all that they’ve suffered, Sharks will have learnt loads and Luffman will build them a pack that can keep them in games and make opposition work for their points. George Roberts captains the side from fly-half and offers a steadying presence.
Player(s) To Watch: Alana Bainbridge at hooker is a real talent and with the right support around her could be a key piece in DMP moving up the table.
On paper no squad is deeper or more impressive than the one Gerard Mullen has at his disposal. The title is Quins to lose but they’ve learned now that there is a target on their backs and they will need to live with that pressure every game to succeed.
The team start the season without veteran centre Rachael Burford and rampaging back row Sarah Beckett but there’s class in every shirt in that line up!
Player(s) To Watch: Emily Robinson can play anywhere across the back row and will always give you a good performance and every ounce of effort available. She’s the sort of player some fans take for granted but will make every team she plays in so much better than the sum of its parts. Izzy Mayhew stole the show in the final, replacing Burford early in the game, but she looked composed and at home. Being able to handle pressure is what marks out a big game player and it looks like Mayhew thrives on it.
Any team with Emily Scarratt in it and Sarah Hunter as captain is dangerous. Lightning prove that by getting to the play offs time and again. They’ll be looking to go one better this season.
They’ve suffered a few key losses, the aforementioned Daleaka Menin and Rhona Lloyd the winger who scored for fun. That said with Scaz in the centre of the park they still have plenty of attacking opportunities.
Player(s) To Watch: Amanda Swartz is an exciting attacking talent but newly announced flanker Sadia Kabeya is the one to watch. An all action back row with all the tools needed to succeed at the highest level, what I love most about watching her play is the joy for the game that you can see written across her face!
So there are a few of my thoughts ahead of kick off. Let me know here, or on social media, which team you think will take the trophy, the players you’re excited to see and what you think this weekends results will be.