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Allianz Premier 15s could unveil overhauled line-up in spring 2023

By PA
April Ishida of DMP Durham Sharks and Ella Wyrwas of Saracens Women during Saracens' 77-5 win in the Premier 15s

The Allianz Premier 15s could unveil an overhauled line-up in spring 2023 following the conclusion of a now-opened tender process.

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Women’s rugby in England is set to transform over the next decade, with the RFU in June announcing a £220million investment and plans to professionalise the top flight.

It could be a tantalising incentive for the clubs who will be invited to meet with the union over the next two months and make their case for inclusion from the 2023-24 season.

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Alex Teasdale, head of the women’s game at the RFU, said: “We are looking forward to receiving the responses to the Request for Proposals and progressing the development plans to ensure we deliver a robust platform and ensure the next cycle of the Premier 15s continues to grow the sport at every level.”

Most Premier 15s clubs are affiliated with a Gallagher Premiership side, with London Irish, Leicester Tigers and Newcastle Falcons among those with rumoured interest in joining clubs like Harlequins, Saracens and Bristol Bears in the next iteration of the league.

Investment will be used to, according to a June RFU strategy document, “support a transformative uplift in the Minimum Operating Standards (MOS) for clubs, which will mandate substantial investment in the performance environment. This will include an increase in the number of coaching staff, enhanced S&C provision, performance lifestyle support, medical cover and improved facility quality and access.” Plans for improved matchday requirements and marketing are also included.

The tender process will see a shortlist created by November 22 and clubs internally notified of the outcome, following presentations to the selection panel, by the end of the year, with the new line-up to be made public in spring 2023.

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The new cycle also, said the RFU, “represents a significant departure from the league as it is today” with plans to transform the Premier 15s from 2023-24 into a new company, owned by the RFU and clubs, with its own CEO and board and projected revenues of £174m over the 10-year period.

While the news of more robust standards and investment will be welcome to some, the overhaul could also spell the departure of long-standing Premier 15s clubs who cannot meet the new minimums or compete with applicants with more resources, raising questions about maintaining regional representation and player pathways.

DMP Durham Sharks, the only side in the north east and one of few teams not affiliated with a Premiership club or university, were forced to turn to crowdfunding to save their 2022-23 season after a £50,000 shortfall threatened to curtail their campaign.

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