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What factors do players consider when moving clubs?

By Lucy Lomax
Maud Muir of England trains during an England Women's Training session at the University of Exeter. Getty Images.

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This summer has already seen movement on the Premier 15s player front. The biggest announcements so far have come out of Gloucester-Hartpury, with the signings of England’s Alex Matthews and Maud Muir, as well as Wales captain Siwan Lillicrap.

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Other clubs have got in on the act with Bristol Bears bringing England hooker Lark Davies across from Loughborough and retired Ireland stalwart Claire Molloy from Wasps, as well as others.

However, in a game which is slowly shifting from amateur to professional and is currently somewhere in between, we ask what players look for when deciding to move clubs. Is money a determining factor, or is it still very much based around development and club culture?

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With Gloucester Rugby recently announcing a significant boost in investment towards Gloucester-Hartpury women’s side, a more established connection between the Premiership club and Hartpury University and increasing their shared resources, it’s becoming clear how investment attracts stand out players.

RugbyPass spoke to two of the club’s new international signings, Muir and Lillicrap, both leaving successful clubs they’ve been a part of for three seasons or more, to experience pastures new.

Wales captain Siwan Lillicrap spoke of the reasons for her move from Bristol.

“I like what Gloucester-Hartpury are trying to achieve and do, their partnership and link up with Gloucester Rugby and Hartpury University is hugely positive.

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“I like the culture and ethos that they’re building there, it was obvious when I went to look around and it’s something I’m keen to be part of. I also think I can add something to the Gloucester-Hartpury squad and share some of my experience.”

Lillicrap also spoke of the personal development side which makes the decision to transfer more appealing.

“It’s quite easy to become complacent in the same squad. You want to learn new things off a different coach and being part of a different team can help you as a player.

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“I’ve had a great time at Bristol over the past three years, but I need a fresh training environment. I think that’ll be important for me post-World Cup to have another focus which will hopefully take my game to the next level.”

So how does the transfer process actually work in the women’s game still trying to shed its amateur status and find its feet in the world of professionalism?

“Having these negotiations is still quite new for us players and the beginning saw a lot of conversations with the Welsh girls already at Gloucester-Hartpury. When I knew Gloucester were interested I went and met with Sean Lynn the head coach and had a tour and asks lots of questions. Things were made simpler by the fact that my contract with Bristol was up for renewal this year.

“It’s about other things as well including travel considerations and how we get to the club. Being based in Wales, Hartpury University is an easy place to get to and not too far which is a huge bonus and the fact that there’s a group of girls who come from west Wales means there’s a car share option.”

Aside from the logistics and culture, with the game slowly sliding along the train tracks towards professionalism and clubs having deeper pockets, how bigger part does money play in a player’s decision?

“It’s obviously part of the discussion,” said Lillicrap. “From a financial side you obviously have to make sure it’s financially sustainable for you.”

20-year-old Muir, moving from Wasps Women to the West Country was in agreement around the reasons for her move.

“To be honest, with the game moving to professional a lot of people now might say it’s about the money, but that really isn’t a big thing for me. It’s obviously a huge bonus but the main thing for me was that closeness within the squad, similar to what I had with Wasps.

“I’m really excited for the change, I’ve been at Wasps for four seasons, I graduate from Brunel University next week and it’s just the right time to move on.

“The increased investment at Gloucester-Hartpury is being reflected in their recruitment drive which is really exciting and obviously it’s encouraging to see so many have resigned.

“When I went down I was amazed by the facilities both at Gloucester and at Hartpury, which we’ll have access to the majority of the time. The investment is really showing.”

It goes without saying the women’s game is still far behind the men’s when it comes to player movement and big money signings and Muir expresses how she hopes the women’s game can catch up in the next few years so that transfers become more commonplace, and more about business than personal.

“It was funny, a club actually approached me after I signed with Gloucester and said they were interested but the coach didn’t feel like they could approach me. I think within the game at the minute it’s quite hard as people have loyalties within the coaching community but it’s good for players to have options. I think if we were more where the men are, coaches coming to any player wouldn’t be an issue.”

It’s encouraging to see how more clubs are investing in their women’s set ups and the league having more summer movement and players opting to test the waters of a new club as a result.

Lillicrap commented: “As we saw this year, more clubs are now competing with the previous top four teams and the competition of the league is going from strength to strength. This is due to a wide range of clubs linking up with their men’s Premiership clubs and off field investments, which is superb. Whether that’s sharing facilities or staff resources it really benefits the game. Doing things jointly is massive and that’s what we look for as players.”

Muir also reinforced the point that investment encourages cross-pollination between clubs and the spreading out of talent across the league: “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the teams that are committing and investing are attracting big players.

“Gloucester are putting together a strong squad, they’ve come so close to being in the top four these last few seasons and I think there’s a great season up ahead.”

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