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The Premier 15s reshuffle: Which teams are flying high and which are struggling?

By Lucy Lomax
Bristol Bears' Hannah West in action during the Allianz Premier 15s match between Bristol Bears Women and Exeter Chiefs Women (Photo by Bob Bradford - CameraSport via Getty Images)

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The start of the 2021/22 season in the Premier 15s has seen the biggest shake up perhaps the league has ever seen. Bristol are on top, reigning champions Harlequins are half way down in 5th, international talent filled Loughborough Lightning sit in 8th- you’d need to be a brave to predict play-off contenders for this season!

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As the competition pauses for the Autumn International break, we look back on some notable achievements and highlights from the past five rounds.

As the league takes a break until 27th November, it is Bristol Bears who sit pretty at the top of the table with five wins from five, and five try bonus points secured. The West Country side have been the most entertaining to watch so far and sit just above Saracens with their superior points difference.

Bristol’s last match before the break saw them convincingly beat reigning champions Harlequins 24-5 away from home at The Stoop. Jasmine Joyce continued her electric try scoring exploits from the sevens circuit with a brilliant score and Sarah Bern showcased another of her rampaging runs to create another.

To put this excellent winning run into perspective, Bristol finished eighth in the league last season and weren’t able to string two consecutive wins together throughout the 2020/21 season. A remarkable improvement- could the two Ward’s arrival at the club: second row Abbie and new Head Coach Dave, be the spark behind the fire?

Saracens continue their dominance at the top of the table, a position they have made themselves comfortable in over the past four seasons, with last season’s finalists also five from five. They face Bristol in round 7 which should be one humdinger of a match up.

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An outstanding achievement was also made in round 5 when Sonia Green became the first known woman to play 300 times for the club in the league- club legend is an understatement.

Down the table and Wasps, Exeter and Harlequins fill up the remaining top half of the spots with supporters and players alike unaccustomed to seeing Quins out of the top two in the early stages of the season.

One could question whether the hole left by former Forwards Coach Karen Findlay has been too big to fill? And whether losing club stalwarts Abbie Ward and Leanne Riley to Bristol have also be contributing factors?

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Despite Exeter’s recent loss to Saracens, the Devon-based side seem hell-bent on ruffling feathers when it comes to the strongest sides, having beaten all teams in the top four of the table last season and continuing that trend to take the scalps of Harlequins and Wasps so far this campaign.

With Harlequins not reeling in their usual dominant performances and results this season, the same eyebrows have been raised on behalf of Loughborough Lightning. The East Midlands side has always finished in the top five in the Premier 15s era, finishing as high as third in the 2018/19 season, so what has not clicked this time round to see them loitering in eighth with one win from five?

Granted, they were unlucky to lose world class centre Emily Scarratt to a broken leg three minutes into the season and there has been player movement away from the club, but with the return of forwards Cath O’Donnell and Rachel Malcolm from injury, plus the inclusion of international players Lark Davies, Sarah Hunter, Detysha Harper, Jenny Maxwell, Megan Gaffney and Helena Rowland, you have to ask what could be going so wrong to see the club’s worst start to the season since the Premier 15s began?

In sixth and seventh sit Gloucester-Hartpury and Worcester Warriors respectively, who have both carved out hard fought wins and been the wrong side of some close results in the first five rounds. It’ll be interesting to see whether these sides push further up the table or falters in the remaining rounds.

Finally, we cannot ignore the bottom team DMP Durham Sharks who appear to be in trouble. The only side to not have recorded a win and with a points difference of -359, one hopes the rest of the season sees them bouncing back to be competitive in the league.

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The Premier 15s reshuffle: Which teams are flying high and which are struggling?

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