A new season of Women’s domestic elite rugby is just around the corner, and with it comes a new look – Premiership Women’s Rugby – and new teams, including Trailfinders, one of the most ambitious clubs in the country.
Trailfinders’ intent has been reflected by bringing in Giselle Mather as Director of Rugby and a Women’s programme which includes development pathways through local clubs and Brunel University.
But of course a club needs players to compete, and in this aspect Trailfinders have been busy, too, bringing in a host of new signings, including the Army’s own Spr Lauren Brooks (RE) and Pte Courtney Pursglove (RLC), along with a strong cohort of internationals from the Home Nations and beyond.
Lauren and Courtney post one of Ealing Trailfinders pre-season matches.
Image provided by Courtney Pursglove
It has proven to be something of a whirlwind mix for former Harlequin, Spr Brooks, who has not looked back since making the short journey across West London to her new club.
“It’s been brilliant,” she says. “Trailfinders is a really ambitious club and they’ve made loads of great signings, and after I had a chat with Giselle it was an easy decision to make.
“I’d had a lot of good years at Harlequins, playing at Twickenham and winning the Premier 15s, but it was time for a new challenge, and helping Trailfinders establish themselves in the Women’s Premiership.
“The facilities there are great, the training has been intense and positive, and we’re looking forward to playing in the Cup and the League this season.”
It may be a new setting for Spr Brooks, but there are also some familiar faces who have made the move, not least Pte Pursglove, who has made the switch from Sale Sharks to the south east.
“Having some clubmates from Harlequins also join Trailfinders has made the move a bit easier, although it is also exciting to be training alongside people who I didn’t know,” Spr Brooks says.
“It is fun to have Courtney join us as well. She’s a proper bundle of energy!”
As with 12 months ago, the season begins with the Allianz Cup, and a trip to Spr Brooks’ former stomping ground, the Twickenham Stoop on September 30th. Trailfinders’ pool looks daunting from an outsider’s perspective, with both the 2023 and 2022 League champions, Gloucester-Hartpury and Saracens, heading to Trailfinders Sports Ground over the subsequent two weekends. Loughborough Lightning complete the group.
However, no one at Trailfinders is overwhelmed by the prospect of what is to come, instead focusing on building game by game.
“There is no pressure on us,” explains Spr Brooks, “and all we want to do is look ahead to the next 80 minutes and improving our performances week by week. Establishing a culture and team ethic is vital, and Giselle has been doing a lot of work on that over the summer.
“We’re all looking forward to it!”
Spr Brooks says that the English domestic competition is likely to be even more competitive than last season, with Leicester Tigers also joining the top flight and Gloucester-Hartpury, Bristol Bears and Exeter Chiefs all having improved considerably over the past 24 months.
The experienced back rower is predicting that this will drive standards higher and higher across the league, something which she also says has been happening at Inter Service level, too, even if the Red Shirts retained their crown for an 18th time from the 19 competitions played.
Lauren on the attack for the Army at Twickenham v the Royal Navy back in May.
Image – Alligin Photography © Army v Navy Match
“We might be winning, but the competition is getting harder and harder,” Spr Brooks acknowledges.
“For example, the scoreboard might have been similar against the Navy in 2023 as it was in 2022, but they made us work for all of our tries, and they put us under pressure for long periods.
“You see how much the Inter Services means in every game as well, like when Amy Cockayne stayed on for the RAF at Kingsholm after picking up an injury where she might have gone off in a lot of other games.
“It is the closest thing that you get to representing your country, and pulling on the red shirt meant a massive amount to me last season. The culture which Sarah Mitchelson has instilled, supported by Jade Mullen and Bethan Dainton, is outstanding, and having more Corps rugby be played will only increase the standard of player who is putting themselves forward for selection.
“Playing at Twickenham with Harlequins was a good experience, but you can’t top running out there in the red shirt, singing the national anthem and representing your Service.”
Words © New Dogs, Old Tricks
Header and featured image – Alligin Photography © Cat Goryn