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What to watch in women’s rugby: Top four hunt PWR glory

By Martyn Thomas
GLOUCESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 02: Sarah Beckett of Gloucester-Hartpury runs with the ball whilst under pressure from Linde van der Velden and Gabby Cantorna of Exeter Chiefs during the Allianz Premiership Women's Rugby match between Gloucester-Hartpury and Exeter Chiefs at the Kingsholm Stadium on March 02, 2024 in Gloucester, England. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

Nine teams have been whittled down to just four in the race to become Allianz Premiership Women’s Rugby (PWR) champions.

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Reigning champions Gloucester-Hartpury, Saracens, Bristol Bears and Exeter Chiefs are the clubs still jostling for the English club game’s ultimate prize.

Such was the quartet’s dominance this season, we have known the identity of the semi-finalists for some weeks but that has not diminished the excitement for the play-offs.

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Abbie Ward: Bump in the Road | trailer

Bump in the Road explores the challenges faced by professional female athletes and all working mothers, featuring England lock, Abbie Ward. Watch the full documentary on RugbyPass TV

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Abbie Ward: Bump in the Road | trailer

Bump in the Road explores the challenges faced by professional female athletes and all working mothers, featuring England lock, Abbie Ward. Watch the full documentary on RugbyPass TV

Watch now

Table-topping Gloucester-Hartpury and regular season runners-up Saracens were the teams to secure the coveted home semi-finals, with the former taking on Exeter this Sunday and the latter Bristol.

History suggests the task facing both the Bears and Chiefs is a tough one, as no lower-seeded team has ever won a semi-final since England’s top division was rebranded (initially as the Premier 15s) in 2017.

You won’t want to miss any of the action and both matches will be available to stream live and for free on RugbyPass TV except where there is a local broadcast deal in place (UK, Ireland, Canada and USA).

Form teams collide in north London

Saracens host the opening match of the 2024 PWR play-offs as Bristol Bears arrive in north London bidding to break through their semi-final glass ceiling.

According to Canada captain Sophie de Goede, Saracens are peaking at the right time in their quest for a league and cup double, and it is hard to argue with that assessment.

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Since losing to Sunday’s opponents in Bristol at the beginning of March, Saracens have swept all before them.

Following that defeat, Alex Austerberry’s side surged to the Allianz Cup title – beating the Bears in the final – and finished the PWR regular season with four consecutive victories to secure Sunday’s home semi-final.

Fixture
England Premier 15s
Saracens Women
21 - 29
Full-time
Bristol Bears Women
All Stats and Data

Bristol were also beaten 32-10 at StoneX Stadium in December and the majority of the fans heading to north London this weekend will expect a repeat of that result and for the home side’s winning run to continue into another domestic final.

However, that scoreline did not tell the full story of the regular season meeting in the capital. Saracens trailed 10-5 early in the second half before the hosts scored five tries in the last 25 minutes to pull away.

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Moreover, Sunday’s visitors are energised by the opportunity to create history this weekend and provided a blueprint of how to beat Saracens in their 35-10 victory three months ago.

Two tries in the opening six minutes set the tone for the Bears at Shaftesbury Park back in March and they will hope to make a fast start at StoneX on Sunday too.

Sunday, 9 June

14:00 BST (GMT+1) – Saracens v Bristol Bears, StoneX Stadium – WATCH LIVE HERE

Chiefs out to spoil champions’ party

Gloucester-Hartpury put their hopes of back-to-back top-flight titles on the line against Exeter Chiefs in Sunday’s second PWR semi-final.

The Circus fell just short of an unbeaten regular season, losing a nail-biting contest against Saracens 33-31 on the penultimate weekend in north London.

Defeat left the champions with 15 victories from their 16 matches but mattered little in material terms as their barnstorming form had already secured top seeding for the play-offs.

“Personally, I think losing [against Saracens] was the best thing that could have happened to us,” Gloucester number eight Alex Matthews told RugbyPass last week.

Fixture
England Premier 15s
Gloucester-Hartpury Women RFC
50 - 19
Full-time
Exeter Chiefs Women
All Stats and Data

“Because we’ll go away, we’ll learn a lot more and I think you just want it that little bit more for those play-offs.”

Gloucester’s players rested up last weekend as the final day unfolded and the Chiefs secured a nine-try 59-27 win against Leicester Tigers at Sandy Park.

Susie Appleby’s side finished fourth in the regular season standings, 19 points adrift of Sunday’s opponents having suffered two narrow defeats at the hands of the Circus.

Yet, Chiefs have plenty of motivation heading into Sunday’s second semi-final. Not only will they want revenge for last year’s PWR final defeat but there is also the pull of playing this season’s showpiece match on home soil.

This is not a contest you will want to miss.

Sunday, 9 June

16:30 BST (GMT+1) – Gloucester-Hartpury v Exeter Chiefs, Kingsholm – WATCH LIVE HERE

Watch Bump in the Road

Whatever happens at StoneX Stadium this Sunday, Bristol Bears second-row Abbie Ward can be delighted with how her season has unfolded.

England star Ward returned to the pitch last November, only 17 weeks after the birth of her daughter Hallie.

Since then, Ward has made 13 PWR appearances as the Bears booked their place in the semi-finals, and on Monday was confirmed as one of 32 Red Roses players to be awarded full-time contracts for the 2024-25 season.

You can follow her journey through pregnancy, the beginning of life as a mother and her return to the Bears set-up in the ground-breaking documentary Abbie Ward: Bump in the Road.

Ward’s husband Dave is also her Bears head coach, and features in the documentary with the unique perspective of partner, father and coach.

He says during the documentary: “For Hallie to grow up in an environment where women are doing amazing things in sport, it’s great.”

“I want to be a world-class player. I want to be a world-class mum,” Ward says. “The challenge is, can you be both?”

Watch Bump in the Road HERE

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Turlough 1 hours ago
'Let them keep talking' - Mike Catt claps back over Bok remarks

“You want that – not hatred – but whatever it is that stirs it all up. It’s good.” Agree with this. If you can put a common motivating idea in all your players heads during a game it can produce a real Team perfromance. Erasmus is pretty expert at this. It is quite clear that the comments by Etzebeth, Allende and others were not coincidence and were actioned to create animoisty before the series in order to galvanise the South African mind set. While I understand it, I don’t like it. They result in unnessary vitriol between supporters and for what? I don’t think any of the SA players seriously believe any of these claims and with Ireland ignoring them Erasmus won’t get the escalation he seeks. The vitriol shown by some SA and indeed NZ supporters is extremely weird for NH supporters (OK, maybe England have felt it) but it just feels very odd over a sport. Ireland were more or less sh1t for the first 100 years of their rugby, they have improved significantly in the last 25 to be in a position around now (it may not last) to go into a match with the big guns with a real shot of winning. The reaction to this from some SH supporters has been bizarre with conspiracy theories of ‘Arrogance’ fueling abuse from supporters and even NZ players to Irish crowds during the world cup. I love International rugby and the comraderie between supporters. I genuinely dread and dislike the atmosphere around games with the southern giants. They take this very personally. NH teams: play them, try and beat them, enjoy the craic with their players and supporters and wish them well. SH teams wish them well and they call you arrogant in the press months later. Its just a matter of try and beat them and then good riddance til the next time.

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