With 10 clubs in a league format, the Tyrrells Premier 15s starts on September 16 and the clubs will play each other home and away, with the top four progressing to a two-leg semifinal stage and the winners to a final on April 29.
The RFU will invest £2.4 million over the next three seasons in the league and crisp-manufacturer Tyrrells is the first major sponsor of a women’s rugby competition in England.
It is understood these matches will be shown free of charge on the RFU website, although there are also plans to consider streaming via Facebook and other online platforms.
The launch of the new women’s league comes at a crucial moment for the sport after England’s run to the Women’s Rugby World Cup final, which ended with a frustrating but compelling defeat by New Zealand and the controversy over the RFU’s funding of the women’s team.
Following England’s victory at the 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup in France, the RFU first handed out central contracts to female players in 2014 to help them prepare for the inaugural Olympic sevens competition at Rio 2016, which saw an England-dominated Great Britain side narrowly miss out on a medal.
Fifty central contracts were awarded in 2016, 17 of them full-time, for the build-up to this year’s Women’s Rugby World Cup but it was always planned that some of those contracts would not be renewed after the tournament as the focus reverted to sevens in 2018
Despite wide calls for a rethink on the central contracts decision, the RFU has stuck to its strategy of targeting funding at the most relevant format of the game in each competition cycle and concentrated its efforts on increasing England’s talent pool and developing a sustainable financial model.
This is why it is so keen to promote the Tyrrells Premier 15s, which it sees as a commitment to the women’s game unrivalled in world rugby and a key plank in its strategy to double the number of female players in England to 50,000 by 2021.
The inaugural Tyrrells Premier 15s season launched last Thursday with all 10 club captains, coaches and club directors of rugby attending an event at Twickenham Stadium.
Nigel Melville, RFU Director of Professional Rugby said: “It’s about raising the standard of the game and giving the athletes and clubs the support they need to be better. There was a gap between our club game and our international game so we wanted to put in a place a competition that was aspirational for younger players. We hope to double the number women and girls playing the game over the next four years to 50,000 players and a lot of them will want to participate in this league. This will help create better players.”
England Women captain and newly appointed Loughborough Lightening assistant coach and player Sarah Hunter said “The new Tyrrells Premier 15s is where the game needs to be in terms of professionalism, high-quality coaching as well as support from strength and conditioning as well as medical teams. The league has been crying out for this for years and for the RFU to come in and transform it is fantastic. It’s great to be involved in it on and off the pitch.”
Wasps Director of Rugby, Giselle Mather said: “I can already see the difference the increase investment is having at my club. The athletes are really excited, there is a huge buzz about the place. We have an strength and conditioning department now, the medical team has improved and everything is there for them because of the sponsorship we have got. The excitement is palpable. We can’t wait until the 16th for the competition to begin”
A new website, Premier15s.com will officially launch ahead of next weekend’s first round of of fixtures.
Tyrrells Premier 15s will operate in a league format with home and away fixtures confirmed today. The top four teams will progress to semi-finals played over two legs, culminating in a final on the 29th April.
Full list of fixtures