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The Allianz Premier 15s is back: Predictions for the season ahead

By Lucy Lomax
Rachael Burford lifts the trophy after her teams victory in the Harlequins Women v Saracens Women Allianz Premier 15s Final at Kingsholm Stadium on May 30, 2021 in Gloucester, England. (Photo by Naomi Baker - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images,)

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This weekend sees the Allianz Premier 15s competition return to pitches around the country and also encouragingly to our screens, with all five opening round matches being broadcast on www.premier15s.com.

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As the popularity and awareness of the league continues to grow, so does the exposure with the RFU promising two fixtures per round to be live streamed throughout the season, plus quality highlights packages from the three non-streamed games to be produced.

RugbyPass takes a look at the ten teams competing to be the best in England this season.

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Harlequins Women
Last season’s finish: Champions

The defending champions have held on to and lost talent in equal measure heading into this season. Club stalwarts and England Red Roses Abbie Ward and scrum-half Leanne Riley are both heading West from the capital to Bristol Bears with exciting Scotland full back Chloe Rollie also departing the club, however, the southwest Londoners have counteracted this by adding one of the league’s most dangerous attackers to their ranks, with Ellie Kildunne switching alliances from Wasps.

The club have also bolstered their second row options with Scotland’s Sarah Bonar joining after finishing her RAF Officer training and Rosie Galligan from Saracens, both will provide leadership at set piece for the women in quarters. It’ll also be the first time in over five years that former Forwards Coach Karen Findlay won’t be part of the Quins’ backroom team, with fans and players yet to see what type of impact this will have.

Predicted finish: 3rd

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Saracens Women
Last season’s finish: 2nd

After being denied the chance to win three back-to-back titles by Quins in last season’s final, the north London side will not struggle for motivation this season. With big names re-signing for the club, such as Red Roses pair Marlie Packer and England Women’s Player of the Year Poppy Cleall, Canadian international Mackenzie Carson and player/coaches (with a casual 252 international caps between them) Rocky Clark and Tamara Taylor, you get the impression they won’t be taking their foot off the gas any time soon.

The club has also attracted other overseas internationals with USA Eagle Carly Waters signing for the club at scrum-half. One notable departee comes in the form of formidable ball carrier Bryony Cleall, twin of Poppy, who has begun a new chapter at Twyford Avenue with Wasps Women.

Predicted finish: 1st

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Wasps Women
Last season’s finish: 3rd

A name change is the not the only encouraging thing about this side this season.  The team have just got back from a pre-season tour which saw them surfing, Army training and put through their paces with outdoor survival drills. The team haven’t lost any key players which suggests all is well under Head Coach Giselle Mather and means consistency and cohesion in the team. However, pen has been put to paper with the signings of speedster on the wing Jess Cooksey from DMP Durham Sharks, forward Lydia Crossman, flanker Kay Searcy, as well as the aforementioned prop Bryony Cleall, plus the re-signing of Welsh international centre Gemma Rowland. Falling short at the semi-final stage the past three seasons, they’re ones to keep an eye on this season.

Predicted finish: 2nd

Loughborough Lightning
Last season’s finish: 4th

This team were on the wrong end of some very tightly fought matches last season, and despite picking up five wins on the bounce in the second half of the year, their results were patchy, especially so when facing top three teams. Without standout player/coach Sarah Hunter for the majority of last season due to injury, the East Midlands side will hope to see more consistency in their play, and with go-to England players Emily Scarratt, Lark Davies, Helena Rowland and Detysha Harper in their squad, they’ll be hoping to get over the semi-final hurdle for the first time in their history.

Predicted finish: 5th

Gloucester-Hartpury Women
Last season’s finish: 5th

Hosting an army of Welsh internationals and England stars Zoe Aldcroft and Natasha (Mo) Hunt, this West Country team quietly bubbled away last season, with new coach Sean Lynn fitting in seamlessly. Their dogged spirit showcased in every game saw them finish in the top half of the table last season, but whether they have the armoury and forward power to go one step further and stand up to the big dogs of Quins and Sarries remains to be seen.

Predicted finish: 6th

Exeter Chiefs Women
Last season’s finish: 6th

This team really were the surprise package last season. Despite it being a completely new team, with new players, coaching staff and performance set-up, the Devonians beat every team in the top four and were unlucky not to make the semi-finals. Head Coach Susie Appleby did well in her recruitment with the team attracting an eclectic mix of international talent including Dutch, Japanese, Welsh and American players, with the team flourishing under the play-for-each-other approach. With their first season under their belts, expect more of the same from this side this season.

Predicted finish: 4th

Worcester Warriors Women
Last season’s finish: 7th

Despite dwindling at the bottom of the table in previous years, last season’s finish was the best result in the Premier 15s era for this Warriors side. With the introduction of former club stalwart and now Head Coach Jo Yapp, the club has seen some of its bountiful potential reached with improved results and culture off the pitch. This season has also seen the re-signing of England internationals Alex Matthews and Lydia Thompson, plus powerful Welsh forward Sioned Harries. New signings for this season sees yet another American Eagle join the league with second-row Alycia Washington crossing the Atlantic, plus the addition of Japanese fly-half Minori Yamamoto.

Predicted finish: 8th

Bristol Bears Women
Last season’s finish: 8th

One team yet to fulfil their potential on the Premier 15s stage is Bristol Bears. Despite a wealth of international and local talent, consistency has been a problem in recent seasons. However, with key players retained and the signing of two players in key positions -second row and lineout guru Abbie Ward and scrum-half Leanne Riley, plus the arrival of new Head Coach Dave Ward, this season could see a vast improvement in results.

Predicted finish: 7th

Sale Sharks Women
Last season’s finish: 9th

Sale were the other new team added to the league last season alongside Exeter Chiefs. Life in the top tier turned out to be a baptism of fire for the Manchester-based side, not helped by the schedule of playing Saracens, Harlequins and Loughborough in their first four matches. The Sharks have attracted another world-class talent to their coaching set up as former Wales Women Skills Coach Rachel Taylor joins as Performance Coach, alongside Performance Lead and hugely respected former England fly-half Katy Daley-McLean.

Predicted finish: 9th

DMP Durham Sharks
Last season’s finish: 10th

It was a hard campaign for this newly merged team who joined forces with Durham University at the start of the season. The side managed to win one game in 2020/21, away at Bristol Bears. This result ended a winless run of 16 matches, with the Northeast side on the end of some of the league’s heaviest-ever defeats. This season sees the most capped Shark in the squad George Roberts named alongside Scotland’s Lisa Cockburn as co-captains, with the team no doubt hoping to tighten up their defence and avoid similar lopsided score lines.

Predicted finish: 10th

All 2021/22 Allianz Premier 15s fixtures can be found here.

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The Allianz Premier 15s is back: Predictions for the season ahead

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