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Lopsided score lines and upsets on and off the pitch

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

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Lots can happen in the space of a week, and the past few days proved no different in the world of women’s rugby which saw upsets on the pitch, a shocking PR episode for the IRFU, lopsided score lines (once again) in the Allianz Premier 15s and plenty of rugby played both on the international and domestic stage.

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This week’s action in round 2 of the Allianz Premier 15s saw plenty of exciting play, with the West Country battle between Gloucester-Hartpury and Bristol Bears providing many moments of excitement, with new head coach Dave Ward and his Bears side claiming a second impressive win of the campaign.

However, with the tournament starting its fifth season and still yet to capture a full-time broadcast deal, many have cited the competitiveness of the league as a potential reason for the lack of interest and this week did little to help that argument with four games of five recording cricket-like score lines.

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RugbyPass Offload | S2 EP1 | Pre-Season & Lions debrief with Hamish Watson, Ryan Wilson & Max Lahiff
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RugbyPass Offload | S2 EP1 | Pre-Season & Lions debrief with Hamish Watson, Ryan Wilson & Max Lahiff

Even the game’s biggest supporters would surely prefer not to see Saracens thrashing DMP Durham Sharks 77-5 or Exeter’s eight try 54-0 victory over Sale. Harlequins also put 66 points on Worcester Warriors, with bottom of the table DMP Durham Sharks having racked up 161 points against them in their opening two matches.

Two teams higher up the table (who finished third and fourth last season) also joined the trend this weekend with Wasps serving up a 29-0 beating to Loughborough Lightning at home. When teams are wrapping up the try scoring bonus point before half-time, it’s not the results the league, fans or broadcasters would have been looking for.

Many will be asking what the RFU can do about this, whether this lies with the set-up of each club and its resources- including the playing level of the men’s team, addressing the salary cap, more firmly limiting the number of overseas players in a match day squad (many clubs have gone down this recruitment route) or the more even distribution of full-time RFU paid England players throughout the league.

One thing is for sure, if the competition is to achieve televised coverage week-in week-out, the spectacle of the games needs to become a less predictable and more closely fought affair between more teams than just those in the top half of the table.

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On the international scene, Monday saw Italy kick off their 2021 World Cup qualifying campaign with an impressive 38-13 win over Scotland in Parma. The Azzurre continued their winning ways against the Scots and showed just what a dominant side they are, especially when a World Cup spot is at stake.

Ireland’s World Cup qualification hopes took a dent in the second match of the qualifiers, as Spain came away victorious by the slimmest of margins, winning 8-7. The women in green will hope to have shaken off any pre-season cobwebs as they take on the in-form Italians next, with everything to play for this Sunday.

The IRFU would have prayed for a positive result on the pitch to deflect from the negative spotlight shone on them earlier in the week, but the dispiriting loss to Spain only fuelled the ongoing conversation about the state of women’s rugby in the country, reignited by the location of the changing facilities provided to the Connacht players for the final weekend of the interprovincial championships.

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The rugby on the pitch saw Munster regain the title which had evaded them for the past four seasons, with a 19-7 win over Leinster, while Connacht and Ulster played out an entertaining 12-12 draw.

However, the attention was frustratingly drawn away from the pitch after footage emerged online revealing a derelict area behind the stadium of graffitied walls, rubbish bins and dumpsters apparently being the appropriate spot to host the Connacht team. It later came to light that no shower facilities were provided after the match either.

The IRFU and Leinster Rugby issued a vague statement online, apologising for the ‘unacceptable error’ and crossed their fingers that that would be the end of the matter but as RugbyPass columnist Stella Mills’ article writes “the statement from the IRFU fell way short of the mark…the lack of sincerity in the apology was clear for all to see.”

In developments since this, the IRFU has begun a review of the circumstances which led to the ‘clearly unacceptable location of players temporary changing facilities’ but only after a request from the Connacht players for them to do so.

It should also be mentioned that all players involved in Saturday’s interpros were subsequently told not to make any comment or speak to the media on the changing facilities. It therefore appears that not only do the players have to endure a degrading experience, but they are also barred from expressing themselves and potentially raising awareness of the shortcomings and areas still needing improvement for the women’s game in Ireland.

In other news for the Premier 15s, Loughborough Lightning have announced a partnership with Premiership side Northampton Saints. An article released by the club website states: “The team will remain named as Loughborough Lightning, but the side’s kit will now bear the Northampton Saints crest and Franklin’s Gardens will host several Lightning fixtures each season.”

The pooling together of resources and rugby brains from two powerhouses of the East Midlands looks like an encouraging step for the women’s domestic game in England, with two former World Players of the Year Emily Scarratt and Sarah Hunter named as the club’s women’s rugby ambassadors.

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Lopsided score lines and upsets on and off the pitch

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