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Burford: Shock player moves are inevitable and they're positive

By Rachael Burford
Sarah Hunter of England talks to Bryony Cleall during an England Red Roses Training Session at Pennyhill Park on April 21, 2021 in Bagshot, England. (Photo by Alex Davidson - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

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For the first time, all five matches in the first round of the Allianz Premier 15s will be broadcast online in one place. This is a welcome move from the RFU, as the body announced that they will be streaming over 40 matches this season, alongside providing match highlights for non-streamed games.

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It’s also a bonus that this weekend we are seeing kick off times for matches staggered. This gives fans the opportunity to engage with more than one match and get behind the league more than they have had the chance to before.

In the past, fans have struggled to access live streams, so this development should not be underestimated. In my opinion, the move reflects the strong appetite for women’s rugby, a sport which I believe is only just getting started in terms of growth.

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I am also hoping that with more live streaming opportunities, and with staggered start times, ticket sales will increase. Last season fans didn’t have the opportunity to really enjoy the rugby experience. I spoke previously about the real impact that fans can have for a team, so it will be great to have them back supporting us this season.

Although it is not yet confirmed if some of the final games will be broadcast on TV, this move from the RFU will not have gone unnoticed by mainstream broadcasters such as BBC, Sky Sports and BT Sport. The women’s game is an attractive product to go to market with, audiences are only going to increase. I do, however, think it is important that if the games are to be placed behind a paywall in the future, that they still remain accessible via live streaming services. It’s crucial that these matches are easily available to all who want to watch them. Whilst the league is still in this development stage, free viewing is important.

Looking at the season more generally, I think we are in for an exciting few months ahead. Although many have questioned the various movements of players between clubs this season, I think it’s a positive thing. Change is inevitable, as players develop; as do their needs. More players are choosing to move to a club that better suits their needs, more are making choices based on what is best for them – and to me that can be nothing but positive.

Bryony Cleall moving away from Saracens was a bit of a shock because her individual impact at the club is huge, also when both Cleall sisters are on the pitch, it’s deadly. However, she explained in her Instagram post that she felt it was time for her to take on a new challenge, and take this opportunity to develop more as both a player and a person. It’ll certainly be interesting to watch what unfolds as she meets her former team out on the pitch this Saturday. Looking over to Bristol Bears, Clara Nielson will be missed from their line up, but will be a strong addition to Exeter’s squad.

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The number of international players who have been recruited to join the league is not only refreshing, but also a reassuring reflection of the standard of rugby played in the league. The fact that players have uprooted themselves from their home countries to come and play overseas is a great indicator of the level of rugby on show.

Players like Alycia Washington will inject huge amounts of energy into game days. She summed up my thoughts perfectly in the video below by saying:“I think this is the best league in the world for women’s rugby, I have so much to learn from everyone here”

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This growth also works both ways. For those players coming over, I hope that fans from their hometown will now have more of a reason to get behind and involved with this year’s Prem 15s season. Hopefully with the high level of international recruitment this season we will see the league reach a wider, more global audience, which can only be a positive in my eyes! This is exactly why we need the games to be more visible and accessible, to open up new audiences and ultimately grow the sport.

It’s hard to ignore the fact that this season is being played in the run up to a World Cup. I can say from experience that the World Cup will be in the back of player’s minds, however, for most it won’t make a huge difference to their playing standard. Of course, majority of players will want as much game time as possible before October, however many will just be trying to focus on the job in hand – which is to perform as best as they can for their team.

Speaking of team performances, I think we could be in for some changes to the top four teams this year. It’s hard to tell exactly how this season will pan out based on the first few rounds, but we should get some strong indication of where teams are at this year. There is a lot of rugby to be played this season, and I can’t wait to see how the league has developed and progressed over preseason.

The Allianz Premier 15s season kicks off this Saturday at midday with Bristol Bears V Exeter Chiefs. Rugby fans are in for a full day of matches, with four being played on the Saturday, and one on the Sunday.

Those who are not attending the games in person will need to register for an account with the RFU to be able to watch the matches this weekend. I have to say the process of doing so is incredibly quick and easy!

For more information on this weekend’s fixtures, including a step-by-step guide of how to sign up for an account, please click HERE

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Burford: Shock player moves are inevitable and they're positive

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