Going back to 2016 and the start of the Tyrells Premier 15’s League

On Sunday I was at Lords watching the England Women’s Cricket Team win the World Cup in nail biting fashion.  It was a great occasion with 2 excellent teams battling it out in front of a capacity crowd.  The balance of that crowd was far more female orientated than the crowds I’m used to sitting in watching the England men. it also had high numbers of children.  The fact that their tickets were only £5 will have been a great factor.  Many of the girls were there to see their idols in action.  A saying was used on BBC TMS that had been taken from a lady called Marian Wright Edelman

You Can’t Be What You Can’t See

Marian is an American Activist for the Rights of Children and I imagine she was talking about all areas of life, but it most certainly rings true to this day for many things, including sport.  At Lords a whole raft of girls were seeing women playing top class sport.

That same evening England Women’s Football team beat Spain 2 nil and have since beaten Portugal to go through to the quarter finals of the European Championship.

Heather Knight speaking on BBC 5 said on Monday  –

There’s Never Been a Better Time to Be a Woman in Sport

So. a lot of positives for Women over the weekend, but, on Monday a news item came to my notice that had been broken by the Scrum Queens account on Twitter 2 weeks previously.  The Rugby Paper had picked it up so it was reaching a wider audience.

The RFU in their wisdom had made the decision to discontinue the contracts for the players in the XV format of the game, the format that has a World Cup starting on August 9th in Dublin.  The format in which England Women won the World Cup in 2014.

Instead the RFU will ‘switch’ the funding to the 7’s format of the game, so basically  if you’re a pure XV’s player you’re on your own after this World Cup for 2 years until that funding switches again –  ‘This Girl Can” has become a battle cry for women in the social media world – well, this rugby girl can, if she can afford to!

There has rightly been a social media outcry and the Shadow Sports Minister, Dr Rosena Ali-Kahn,  has written to the RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie to say that the governing body’s move in switching funding next year to the 7’s game showed it was

‘Far less than fully committed’ to women players than their male couterparts’ ‘The most concerning aspect of this news is that what it says about the RFU’s ongoing commitment to the women’s game’  ‘ For an organisation with a total annual revenue in the hundreds of millions to make this decision is deeply disappointing’

I interviewed Dean White several months ago about the proposed new elite club structure for women’s rugby,  at the time was he coaching the Thurrock T birds team, a club that has had a hand in producing several England players, he was rightly worried that the top tier would be closed and his club would be excluded.  He was right, but Lichfield Ladies who were highly successful in the top flight last season were amazingly also excluded.  Things seem to be going awry all over the place for the women’s game!

Dean has voiced his thoughts over this latest news

So women’s rugby has been in the headlines over the past few days and none of it has been positive. The people running the women’s game have got it completely wrong and they need to realise it quickly, before it is too late.

The have ruined clubs under the new Prem, taken away contracts for 15’s players and taken away the academy set up. I’m glad that the media have really taken this story on because they have been getting away with it for years. The ‘steering group’ that looked at women’s rugby have disappeared into the long grass after delivering what the RFU wanted and not the club’s….We should be asking them questions too. 

The RFU are pushing towards ‘centres of excellence’ which basically means the Prem clubs taking all the best players and working with them. What the RFU don’t understand is that these young players don’t want to drive for over two hours each way just because the RFU refuse to develop the game country wide. Clubs will also not work with this setup if they are ambitious, why would they continue to develop players so that other clubs come along and take them? How do clubs under the Prem get sponsors to invest in a side that just produces players for other teams? This setup also stops competition at the top, where championship sides can compete and improve the standards through competitive game’s.

The RFU now need to rethink their position and work with the club’s….but we all know that this won’t happen.

I hope the England women win the world cup, this will be good for the game and also put even more pressure on the people at the top.

Remember that the RFU are the guardian’s of the game, if we (clubs, players, coaches, management, supporters) are not happy with how the game is being run, then we should hold them to task.

In the Twitter news this evening I can now see that 124 MP’s have written a letter to the RFU urging them to reconsider their position.  We are in 2017 not 1917 I truly hope the RFU put their stubbornness to the opinions of ‘Those outside the organisation’, as noted by Nigel Melville, and do a U Turn!  One of those very recently inside the organisation in Dean White has expanded the concerns considerably!

An update to the latest situation in the Women’s game.

The initial 3 years of the Tyrells Premiership saw Saracens and Harlequins dominate (bearing in mind Quins had very much been an amateur team before the advent of the league). The initial period of 3 years being finished meant a re-jig for next season. Each of the incumbents were judged by their performance over the 3 years alongside their ability to deliver the competitions Minimum Operating Standards. The top 6 teams were automatically invited to take part for the next 3 years – listed alphabetically – Bristol Bears Women, Gloucester-Hartpury Women, Harlequins Women, Loughborough Lightning, Saracens Women and Wasps FC Ladies.

That left the remaining 4 teams in a tender situation again, Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, Worcester Warriors, Richmond and Waterloo were then interviewed via a conference call. The end result of that sees both Richmond, a club that won the league at the top level in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2016 and Waterloo Ladies a team celebrating 100 years of women’s rugby in March 2021 kicked out of the top flight to be replaced by 2 teams aligned with Premiership. rugby teams – Sale Sharks and Exeter Chiefs.

Richmond have issued a statement –

Richmond Rugby has been at the forefront of women’s rugby for nearly 35 years and to this day remain one of the most successful women’s clubs in world rugby. We continue to deliver an exceptional programme for our players, providing elite opportunities within a community rugby club, whilst remaining financially secure.
The club has worked hard over the last three seasons and throughout this process to ensure that it complies with the minimum operating standards set by the league. We have approached every stage of the re-tender process with an open mind and with an intention to succeed. 
As such, today’s announcement is very disappointing and upsetting for our current and former players, coaches, staff, sponsors, members, volunteers and supporters. 
We strongly believe in our community approach to growing the game at every level. Our Women’s Programme has always maintained a significant ability to produce successful teams and successful players through ‘The Richmond Way’; providing an inspiring environment for all, where a culture of ambition promotes rugby excellence, enjoyment and friendship, alongside a sustainable financial model.
The decision to remove us from the league is yet another blow for traditional rugby clubs, like ours, that pride themselves on providing rugby to all as part of a community rugby environment. 
We remain fully committed to our Women's Programme and will embark on the next stage of our long and proud history with the same spirit and determination to succeed as we always have. Last season we regularly had more than 60 players at training and we look forward to welcoming them all back to the Athletic Ground once it is safe to do so.
We would like to thank everyone who has contributed and supported our club over the last three seasons, in particular our players, coaches, medics and support staff. We look forward to sharing the next stage in the Richmond journey with you all.

I checked to see where the 2 new teams in the league finished their season and it would appear that they haven’t actually existed before this point. It seems to me the RFU are looking for teams to match up to the Premiership Rugby stakeholders. I imagine Loughborough will be nervous at the end of the next 3 years, although they are of course in a position to be relabelled Leicester Tigers and the renamed DMP Durham team seem to have moved a lot closer to Newcastle. If this is the intention of the powers that be they should surely make that public rather than further undermining the traditional women’s clubs.

  • Bristol Bears Women
  • DMP Durham Sharks
  • Exeter Chiefs Women
  • Gloucester-Hartpury Women 
  • Harlequins Women
  • Loughborough Lightning 
  • Sale Sharks Women
  • Saracens Women
  • Wasps FC Ladies
  • Worcester Warriors Women 

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