London Irish launch professional women’s team
Huge news out of London Irish today as they have announced they are forming a women’s team with intent to bid for a spot in the Allianz Premier 15s when the league reviews it’s members in 2023!
With a well-established women’s team aligned to London Irish Amateurs, the decision to add an elite women’s set up is one that many Exiles fans will have been hoping for and Irish have certainly gone in all guns blazing. Two years ahead of the next Premier 15s submissions gives LI plenty of time to fine tune their plans and fill the front office with the right people to ensure success.
Mark Bensted the CEO at London Irish certainly sees the ben “This is a welcome development for London Irish Rugby Club. It is a logical next step for us and we are excited about getting all the building blocks in place in support of our application to join the Premier 15’s in 2023. There is a lot of hard work ahead, but we are committed to this project as the Club continues to grow following its move back to London.’’
Those building blocks are absolutely key and Bensted has moved quickly to secure some key people and one very exciting working relationship. To ensure they have a good knowledge of women’s rugby at the elite level Graham Smith has been brought in. As assistant coach he was a key cog in England’s Red Roses winning the 2014 World Cup and is still very well regarded in the game.
Mary Fyfe, an important figure in women’s rugby across the London Irish teams both professional and amateur, sees this as a the obvious next step for the club. “We are incredibly excited about what the future holds for women’s rugby at London Irish as we prepare to write a new chapter in our history. The desire and commitment to establish an elite women’s team at London Irish builds on the growth of the women’s set-up over recent years and is very much a natural progression for the Club.”
Perhaps the most important feature in today’s announcement though is the link to St Marys University as education has been an important recruitment tool for Premier 15s clubs. Three of the current competitors are based out of universities – DMP Durham Sharks, Gloucester-Hartpury Women and one of the teams about to take part in the AP15s semi finals Loughborough Lightning and all see the opportunity to combine education and playing as a key part of their recruitment strategy.
Former England player (and captain of England 7s) Abi Chamberlain is part of the coaching team for the Amateur ladies so I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see her involved with the pro team either, bringing her own wealth of experience to the table.
An added bonus for London Irish fans too in that a number of St Marys students are finding their way into Harlequins Women teams so a chance to get one up on old rivals will cause a few wry smiles.
With plenty of current Irish internationals plying their trade in the Premier 15s the opportunity to see players wearing green for club and country, and hopefully to add a few England internationals to the mix, will excite existing fans and attract new ones.
Without knowing the future plans for the Premier 15s it’s tough to assess what the likelihood is of the Exiles staking their claim to a spot, but if I were a betting man I would assume the league will expand to 12 teams with Irish and, perhaps, Newcastle Falcons being added (maybe a third team if one existing club are removed from the league).
There will be plenty more news to come from Irish in the next two years and they will have a clear plan in place, but if it were up to me, I would be trying to develop more tangible pathways to Irish Rugby for their elite players. A year out I would look to appoint a coach who is well known in the women’s game. Perhaps a recently retired international. A couple of key player signings to build around and a few high-profile exhibition games will help build anticipation…. But I’ll detail more of those ideas when there is less rugby to talk about. For now, let’s just enjoy the excitement of another team throwing their hat into the Premier 15s ring.