- Worcester begin their Premiership title defence
- Newcomers Aylesford look to make an impression
The English Women’s Premiership kicks off this week, with eight of the best teams in the country doing battle over what is set to be another thrilling season of domestic rugby.
Worcester head into the season on the back of a first ever league title in their 20-year history and they will be favourites to take an opening league win against newly-promoted Aylesford Bulls.
Donna Kennedy, Worcester’s new head coach, said: “Winning the Premiership was a massive achievement. Obviously we want to remain at the forefront of English club rugby this season, but there are several clubs who’ll be serious contenders, with Lichfield, Bristol and Richmond looking particularly strong.”
Worcester certainly won’t be taking Aylesford lightly as they boast a very experienced and well-known No. 8 in former England captain Catherine Spencer. The 63-times capped forward, who last led England in the 2010 Rugby World Cup final, has returned to Premiership action for the first time in two years and will no doubt be an invaluable asset to the Bulls’ ambitions.
Spencer said: “Aylesford have worked really hard over the years to move up the leagues and gaining promotion to the Premiership is nothing less than they deserve.
“I never imagined that I would be back playing against some of my former England teammates and it was never in my retirement plans but now that it is here, I, along with the rest of the girls, am really excited.
“I may not be quite as fit as I was when I was last playing in the Premiership with Bristol in 2011, and of course I am a little older, but I am hoping that I will still be able to give a few of the youngsters a run for their money!”
Darlington Mowden Park, meanwhile, face a tough opener against much-fancied Richmond, who will unquestionably be looking to return to the glory days of dominating the Premiership. The South London side will certainly want to finish top of the pile after being denied an unprecedented fourth consecutive title by just one point last season.
After three third-place finishes in the Premiership over the last three years, Lichfield too will be looking to rise up the league ladder. The Midlanders, who can boast some star players in England captain Sarah Hunter and fellow internationals Emily Scarratt and Victoria Fleetwood, face Wasps on the road on the first day of the season.
Wasps, meanwhile, welcome some new arrivals at the club, including England’s Marlie Packer. Heading up the coaching team is Ty Sterry, who has been involved in high-level Italian rugby working with teams such as Parma and L’Aquila, as well as the National Rugby League side, FIRFL.
Sterry said: “As a lifelong Wasp myself, I’m really privileged to be involved with the club. The changes in the coaching structure have been beneficial, and we’ve really progressed since the start of the summer. I’ve been impressed by the camaraderie I’ve seen from the girls.”
In the final clash of the weekend, Saracens will take on Bristol. Despite boasting some star names such as Maggie Alphonsi, Saracens will be fielding a young developing side with big ambitions this year.
Coach Ross McClelland said: “Bristol play fast, free-flowing rugby and always look to attack from anywhere so this will be a hard game. They were a stand-out side last season and showed us a thing or two when we played them at their place, so we look forward to trying to rectify that in this first fixture."
In addition to the Premiership this season, the RFU has announced the introduction of the all-new Women’s Senior Cup. The eight Premiership clubs and eight clubs from the Championship 1 North and South leagues (Camphill, Thurrock, Cheltenham, Birkenhead Panthers, Firwood Waterloo, West Park Leeds, Trojans and Hove) will contest the Cup competition over England’s Autumn International Series and Six Nations championship.
Find the Women’s Premiership fixtures for 2013/14 here.