Ahead of this weekend’s inaugural Tyrells Premier 15s - the showpiece of English women’s club rugby - we spoke to Saracens head coach Rob Cain about how his side is preparing to face the defending league champions Harlequins on Sunday.
Having topped the table at the end of the regular season, Saracens should find themselves as red hot favourites going into the game, but having lost to to ‘Quins in the final around of league games, Cain sees it otherwise.
“We’ve had some really tough games against each other - they’re a good dance partner aren’t they?, he jokes.
“They’re a very strong side. They carry hard, they work around the corner, they’ve got an excellent set piece with Vickii Cornborough in the scrum and Abbie Scott in the line-out. I would say they are favourites and rightly so with the experience that they have over us and the fact they are defending champions."
After a year in the new-look top league, Cain says he has been very impressed with where the competition is going.
“It’s been really positive and the results speak for themselves. The games have been more competitive and the profile has been much higher.
“The playoff system makes it very exciting and overall I think it’s been a strong first year with a lot of new young talent coming through, not least in our side at Saracens”
Cain is being modest, as his young players have belied their youth this season and been in outstanding form with backs such as Zoe Harrison, Helena Rowland and Cara Wardel all highly rated young stars while Hannah Botterman is one of the game’s rising front row stars.
He has been able to develop those players with help of some vital experience in the form of Poppy Cleall, Marlie Packer and Georgie Gulliver and Cain is grateful for such a mix in his squad.
“We are incredibly lucky here to have a lot of young talent who have very high rugby IQs and then players who are helping them to develop that and are willing to work with them to bring them on.”
As for the path the final, it was a fairly straightforward route for Saracens who were much too good for Gloucester-Hartpury over the two legs of the semis.
“They had to fight very hard to get that fourth spot and they caught us on a hot day,” Cain says.
“It was one of the most consistent we’ve been in terms of our attacking game and our ball carriers were impressive with players like Marlie, Poppy, Bryony (Cleall) and Hannah playing extremely well in that regard.
“The development of a side takes time- our back line has an average age of 20 and they are really coming together now but still a work in progress. As soon we as finished the semi-finals last year when we lost to Bristol, we sat down and looked at this season - who we needed and what sort of squad we were building and we identified some players to come in who gave us something extra as well as had the values we have at the club.
“Everyone who has come in has added something and we’ve been really lucky with the experience we have now.”
“The internationals that came in have been hugely influential and they have also played a big role in supporting Lottie Clapp who is such a young captain. She’s been able to lean on them when she’s needed it and she's done a superb job.
“She's been through the entire system here at Saracens and played for England through the age groups so we’re really pleased she’s done such a great job leading the team this year.”
This is Cain’s fourth year at the helm having started with a bang in 2014/15 when he led the team to a League and Cup double. The following year the side reached and lost both finals while they reached the semi-finals and won the Premiership 7s title last year.
He is well placed to look ahead at how the league can continue to grow.
“I think we need to keep working hard to grow the crowds - I thought Richmond and Harlequins did a great job for that big game and the product is improving so the audience will continue to grow there.”
He says that his side are lucky to have the total backing of the professional club in north London.
“Nigel Wray has been fantastic and the biggest supporter of the team. We’re the only side apart from the men’s pro team to train at Allianz all the time and there’s a very strong relationship between both sides. We’ll keep building that.”
First things first and a fantastic final with Harlequins beckons.
Saracens play Harlequins on Sunday 29th April at Ealing Trailfinders, 15h00 KO.
Tickets are available via England Rugby https://www.eticketing.co.uk/rfu/EDP/Event/Index/2423?webSyncID=a7d543e6-cc09-70da-3999-93a9490cddb0&sessionGUID=496a5369-3b18-4d84-c248-2c29351d3b65