Several Army Women’s team stars are getting set for a return to competitive rugby this weekend as the RFU’s Premier 15s kicks off for the 2020/21 season.
Bdr Bethan Dainton (flanker, Royal Artillery, Harlequins), Cpl Louise Dodd (prop, QARANC, Wasps), LCpl Ellie Gattlin (2nd row, Int Corps, Saracens), Capt Alex Hardy (flanker, Royal Artillery, Harlequins), Capt Erica Mills (2nd row, Royal Artillery, Gloucester-Hartpury), Sgt Sarah Mitchelson (defence coach, RLC, Wasps), Sgt Jade Mullen (centre, AGC (SPS), Harlequins), Capt Gemma Rowland (full back/centre, Royal Artillery, Wasps) and Cpl Emily White (centre, AGC (RMP), Exeter Chiefs) are all part of clubs within the competition and could see action in the opening round of fixtures this weekend.
Capt Mills could very well be facing Cpl White, too, as Exeter make their tournament bow with a trip to Gloucester-Hartpury on Saturday afternoon. Elsewhere we will have keen eyes on Saracens, who host Worcester, and Harlequins, who play DMP Durham Sharks. Wasps’ trip to Bristol has been postponed until October 31st.
The Premier 15s has several changes from last season, with a new sponsor, some new teams, and some law variations to take into account reduced face-to-face contact and mitigate risk for the players involved.
Allianz have taken over as the league’s title sponsor, and along with Exeter there is a first season at this level for Sale Sharks, with both clubs having been awarded franchises by the RFU.
The law variations include free kicks instead of scrums for forward passes, a play advantage law from a knock-on, removing the option of a scrum from free kicks/penalties, and a number of variations to reduce the length and frequency of driving mauls.
As well as strict social distancing and regular water breaks – and to recognise the quicker nature of the game brought about by these variations – game time is being reduced to 35 minutes each way.
The opening nine rounds of the season, which is scheduled to continue until April before the top four teams compete in the play-offs, will be played under these variations.
Major Charlie Maxwell, Director Women’s Rugby, says that she is looking forward to following the fortunes of the Army’s players as the Premier 15s progresses.
“We’re delighted to have a number of our players involved with Premier 15s squads,” she commented. “The competition has come on in leaps and bounds over the last few seasons and we have seen that reflected in how much our players have developed working in some fantastic set-ups across the country.
“We wish all of our players the very best as the Premier 15s campaign starts this weekend and then continues over the winter.
“It will also be interesting to see the impact of the different law variations, how much impact they have on the patterns of the games and whether we will see them provide a framework for the next steps of the RFU’s Return to Play guidance.”
We will keep you up-to-date with how all our players get on during the course of the season!
Jade Mullen and Beth Dainton both seen above in action earlier this year for the Army against the British Police are amongst those featuring in the Premier 15s this season.
Words © Chris Wearmouth, Images © Alligin Photography / Scrumpix