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Allianz Cup preview: Bryony Field and Kim Oliver look ahead to an exciting start to the season

By Matt Merritt
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 04: Poppy Leitch of Exeter Chiefs celebrates at the final whistle with Claudia Macdonald of Exeter Chiefs during the Women's Allianz Premier 15s match between Harlequins and Exeter Chiefs at Twickenham Stadium on March 04, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Eddie Keogh/Getty Images)

The Allianz Cup returns this week and nine of the teams making up Premiership Women’s Rugby are game-planning to take the trophy from reigning champions Exeter Chiefs Women.

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The Allianz Cup, much like its sibling competition the Premiership Cup for the men, has been positioned as a development competition and in its group stages that’s usually the case, with internationals either in national team camps or rested while young players and fringe squad members get a chance to shine. 

This year it also serves as pre-season with the league proper not kicking off until the conclusion of the inaugural WXV tournaments, so there will be some fascinating fixtures along the way.

One team who will be focused on really hitting the ground running from the moment the whistle blows are Saracens Women. The three-time league winners missed out on the final for the first time ever last season so they will be hungry to put themselves back on track and have made a number of astute signings to ensure they have the depth of talent to do just that, not least with bringing Bryony Field in from Loughborough Lightning to add to their front row depth.

“Pre-season has been going really well, it’s been really hard work and difficult learning how to fit in with a new group, but I’ve enjoyed it so far,” Field told RugbyPass. “I feel like my game has really improved since coming here and I can’t wait to get out there with the girls.”

So how do players approach the cup? Field sees it as a key way to get ready for the PWR season. “I think for me the Allianz Cup is, for me individually, really important as a time for me to get used to the way players around me play the game and learn how to play off that,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of talent coming up through the pathway, so it’s a really good opportunity to get used to each other and for them to show what they can do.”

As for the fixtures, the league is split into two pools. Saracens find themselves in pool B and are joined by Trailfinders Women, Harlequins Women, Loughborough Lightning and Gloucester-Hartpury Women. Meanwhile, pool A will be contested between Bristol Bears Women, Exeter Chiefs Women, Warriors Women, Leicester Tigers Women, and Sale Sharks Women.

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This means each team plays the others in their pool as well as having a bye week, leading to some entertaining fixtures as Field attests. “I’m definitely looking forward to the two derbies, Trailfinders and Quins, they should be good games. I’m excited to go up against some of my old friends at Loughborough and hopefully get the chance to batter a couple of them!”

One of those games, against Trailfinders, will be a chance to see how a new entrant to the elite tier of women’s club rugby have prepared themselves. Kim Oliver is Trailfinder’s skills coach and athlete mentor, and is former head coach of Bristol Women and before that wore the rose for England as a player.

“Pre-season has been going brilliantly,” she told us, when we enquired how the team was settling into the prospect of the season ahead. “Obviously, being a completely new side, the players have faced some unique challenges, from learning names all the way to understanding each other’s playing styles. But after our pre-season tour to Wales, the group has some powerful bonds. We feel like we’re getting better and better every week and excited to take on Quins in our first game.”

What a first game for Trailfinders too. With a bye week in round one, they’ll make their debut at Twickenham Stoop in the second round of fixtures, it’s a trip so short they could as easily get there on public transport as take a team coach, but it’s an exciting one for them nonetheless.

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Those first-round fixtures in full see Warriors Women hosting Exeter on Friday evening to kick off the season, before Sale Sharks face Leicester Tigers at 2pm on Saturday afternoon. Bristol Bears have pool A’s bye week.

In pool B Trailfinders take the week off, while Gloucester-Hartpury play host to Loughborough Lightning at 5pm on Saturday with a classic London derby of Saracens v Harlequins following at 7pm. 

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