The eight team women’s Premiership was last season won by a star-studded Worcester side who lifted the title for the first time in their 20-year history, helped by an array of talented English backs.
The summer has seen a raft of player movement between clubs and with two significant changes to the league structure taking hold in this World Cup season, Worcester are certainly not guaranteed to start the competition as favourites
As regularly happens in a World Cup year, this season there will be no relegation from the Premiership and no promotion into it. This is a huge fillip for newly promoted Aylesford Bulls, who will know only too well of the fate of the last two sides who were promoted into this division – Thurrock and Old Albanian Saints – who failed to win a single game after promotion, with both sides quickly relegated.
Opening Round Fixtures - September 8
- Wasps v Lichfield
- Saracens v Bristol
- Darlington Mowden Park Sharks v Richmond
- Aylesford Bulls v Worcester
If that shows how tough life can be at the bottom of the table in this competition, life is just as tough at the top.
While Worcester may nominally start as the side to beat, a quick glance at some of this summer’s substantial player movement between clubs quickly points to one of the most competitive Premierships in recent memory.
Add to that the fact that the other significant change this season made by the RFU is that this competition will be done and dusted by January (instead of April) and there’s no doubt that performances in the Premiership will be watched very closely indeed by England selectors choosing their 6 Nations and World Cup squads. That should surely add some extra spice.
To the defending champions first.
Worcester have lost some of their top attacking talent this summer, with England fullback Nolli Waterman moving to Bristol, and top international finisher Jo Watmore (pictured above) joining Richmond. The absence, through injury, of back row star Heather Fisher, is also a blow, and Worcester may well find that winning the competition is one thing, but keeping the title is quite another.
Heather Fisher's injury strikes a blow to holders Worcester
Richmond are probably the biggest threat to their crown, given the addition of Watmore to their already packed list of top internationals, which includes Alice Richardson, Claire Allan and Emma Croker of England and Lynne Cantwell of Ireland.
Bristol, too, are a real side to watch this season. Despite the departure of one of the top players in the world last season – Marlie Packer, who joins Wasps – they have added some high profile players to their already talented squad including Waterman from Worcester, and Wales stars Rebecca de Fillipo and Philippa Tuttiett.
Elsewhere, Saracens are worth keeping an eye on after a few seasons of transition and, with Maggie Alphonsi back in action, they could push themselves right back into contention after a few barren years.
Bonus for Wasps
The addition of Packer to Wasps is a real bonus for the West Londoners, though they have some work to do if they are to be title contenders this season, while Lichfield have suffered no major departures and they will rely heavily on the creativity of England midfielder Emily Scarratt.
Newly promoted Aylesford Bulls have the huge experience of former England captain Catherine Spencer to call on, but they are sure to find the going tough in the top flight. Having two years to establish a foothold in the league is certainly a huge plus for them.
Finally, northerners Darlington Mowden Park Sharks begin a new chapter playing at the impressive Northern Echo Arena in Darlington, where their key players include England’s Katy McLean and Georgina Roberts.
Ali Donnelly is the editor of Scrumqueens.com, the world’s leading independent women’s rugby website.