Could Welsh and Scottish teams join the Premier 15s?
If you look around the teams in the Premier 15s you’ll see the squads are full of talent, not just from England but across the UK and further afield too. In particular the wealth of Scottish and Welsh talent plying their trade across the league has often given rise to idle conversation about whether they could add whole teams to the competition in future.
More recently we have been given to believe more formal conversations are taking place. In Fiona Tomas’ article in the Telegraph this week around the return to training she references a conversation RFU head of women’s performance Nicky Ponsford had with the BBC on the subject. You can read Fiona’s piece here and it’s well worth it for a succinct review of where the league is right now.
Essentially the relevant unions are clearly in conversation, but it will be a long while before we see concrete moves.
Which all sounds great, but can we realistically expect to see Scottish and Welsh teams join the league in the future? I don’t pretend to know how serious the prospect is, but there are a few points we can consider.
Are there enough players of the right quality to compete?
This is the easiest answer of them all…. Yes. Both nations are peppered with talent and an opportunity to pit themselves against other top teams on a weekly basis would only be a positive. Look around the league and you can imagine the likes of Sarah Bonar, Rhona Lloyd and many more locking down starting spots for a Scottish team. They’d have plenty of leadership too, Jade Konkel and Lisa Martin springing immediately to mind as players who could fill that role on and off the pitch.
As for a Welsh team, there are 11 players at Bristol Bears Women alone. Head coach Kim Oliver spoke to the BBC last week (you can read that interview here) and was unequivocal in her praise for what they bring to the table as a group. “They’re a massive part of the team, they bring something different, they drive the standards at Bristol,” she told Sara Orchard and with Wales captain Siwan Lillicrap and Barbarian-capped fly half Elinor Snowsill among their number it’s no surprise they set the pace for the team.
Where would they play?
In Scotland you could only really imagine our hypothetical team playing in Glasgow or Edinburgh (or even alternating between the two). With most players still likely to have ‘day’ jobs and the fact you can get from one city to the other comfortably in 90 minutes this would provide enough opportunity for their playing pool. It’s hardly a short commute, but many players currently face longer drives to training and matches than that (I can attest to the time it takes south coast Quins players to get up the A3 to their training ground, let alone to the Stoop for games there). If I were a betting man I would imagine them calling Glasgow home, but either way would work.
In Wales it’s a little more difficult as many of their players in the TP15s still live on the home side of the border. While Bristol’s Welsh contingent would likely favour Cardiff or somewhere else close by there are also a raft of internationals in the north, many of whom have signed with Sales Sharks Women. This is a 4 hour trip each way, not really an option for commuting. So lets assume Cardiff for the landing spot here, with a few players choosing to stay in the north and turn out for English teams.
Would this mean expansion?
I would hope so, I don’t see any of the English teams we have currently being forfeited to make way so a rise to 12 teams seems the inevitable outcome. I suspect this would mean more than a seasons notice needing to be given for sides to develop their younger players so they would be ready to take over and fill out the spots vacated by Welsh & Scottish starters.
So am I in favour of the move?
In short, yes! More eyes on the league, a potential for more ‘event’ matches (St Davids/Andrews day matches could be built up in the way London Irish have made their St Patricks weekend games into a mini festival). This could be a massive positive boost and I suspect would make the league more attractive to broadcasters, perhaps even pushing terrestrial TV companies to make it a flagship sports show.
In other news…
Worcester Warriors Women are back in training! New signing (and Red Rose) Jo Brown gave an interview to WWWTV which I’ll share below and is worth a couple of minutes of your time.
Sale Sharks Women announced a new signing on Friday and a Welsh international no less. Second row Gwenllian Pyrs is the latest to join the Shark team.
Lastly, Harlequins Women confirmed a trio of departures. Emma Swords and Lydia Hartridge are both leaving the area for work reasons, Swords moving to North London with Hartridge heading to the North of England. Hopefully we’ll see both signing with other Prem 15s clubs in the near future.
The third departure is Giada Franco, a big loss in the Quins back row. Franco will be staying in Italy and re-joining her former club Rugby Colorno to focus on university studies and her commitments to the Italian national team.