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English Women's Premiership Preview

The RFU English Women's Premiership kicks off this weekend and we'll be bringing you match reports and updates right throughout the season. Here's our team by team preview looking ahead to the competition which features some of the best players in world rugby.

Richmond

The reigning league champions will start the season again as favourites having claimed the title for the past three years running. Karen 'Jock' Findlay remains as head coach, with further coaching announcements anticipated in the coming weeks for the Club which operates at great depth with three competing sides in various leagues.

Key players returning at the start of the season include England internationals Claire Allan and Alex Matthews both back from injury, and Richmond have a host of other international players in their ranks such as Englands Alice Richardson and Rowena Burnfield, Scotlands Susie Brown and Lindsay Wheeler, Spains Maria Ribera Garcia and Irelands Lynne Cantwell (pictured)

Exiting the Club are centre Rachael Burford who has joined Thurrock, and Spaniards Ellie Garcia and Barbara Pla Vegue, with the latter leaving a strong scoring record behind her.

Follow Richmond on Twitter @richmondfc1861

Saracens

Saracens finished a close second last season and will certainly be targeting lifting the league title for the first time in four seasons. Saracens were three in-a-row winners then, but have been pipped in the past few seasons by local rivals Richmond.

The north Londoners can certainly call on experienced internationals including in their ranks both experience and fresh talent with England Internationals, Maggie Alphonsi and Hannah Gallagher teaming up alongside England Under 20s, Leanne Riley, Georgia Peedle, Ellie Gattlin and Mica Evans. They will be joined once again this season by Canada 7s captain, Mandy Marchak while her 15s team mate, Hilary Leith will make her debut for the club.

Follow Saracens Ladies on Twitter @saracenswomen

Wasps

Wasps have worked hard in the pre-season build up, including matches against Saracens and Cardiff Quins. The team, based in Acton, west London, have also appointed a new backs coach, Ben Woods, who has great experience working with the likes of Leicester Tigers in the past.

The ultimate aim for Wasps is to improve on last seasons 4th place finish in the league. Wasps also have a second side which competes in Championship South 1 and so with players continuing to developing and new players to the club there is plenty of competition for places throughout both squads.

Key players for the first team include backrow Jane Leonard and lock Jo McGilchrist, who are back from injury this season and the side will benefit from Michaela Staniford and Tash Brennans continued experience on the 7s circuit. Players to look out for this season are youngsters Hannah Edwards and Marissa Lowe who both continue to improve and develop with every game they play.

First up are Premiership newcomers Thurrock Ladies which is sure to be a tough match with Wasps expecting Thurrock to want to prove themselves in their first Premiership experience.

Follow Wasps Ladies on Twitter @waspsladies

Worcester

Worcester are aiming to improving on their mid-table place, targeting a top three finish for the coming season.

Tim Stevenson has joined Head Coach Luke Fisher (AKA Jersey) and Assistant Donna Kennedy in the capacity of Backs coach and the Club is confident that Tims input will develop the skills of their exciting and speedy backs.

The influential Karen Jones and Heather Fisher will make a welcome return after long term injury, however, the Worcester injury jinx is still present so the season will commence without a full complement of first team players. Other key players include England 7s star Jo Watmore.

Several second team players experienced life in the Premiership last season due to injuries and this strength in depth has been augmented by the arrival of Sian Williams, Joy Potter, Sarah Mimnagh and Bridget Williams for 2012-13. The Club have seen some departures with Mary Anne Gittings, Rhiannon Parker and England 7s player Kate Hancock opting to join Bristol, to help reduce their round trip to training and games by around 160 miles.

Follow Worcester Ladies on Twitter @RfcWorcLadies

DMP Sharks

The northern outfit are aiming to improve on their placing last season and have a new head coach in Mike Barnett an experienced womens coach having previously worked in the national set-up.

Always a tough proposition on home soil, DMP Sharks have a number of influential players in their ranks. They include womens 15s captain Katy McLean who is a towering presence at fly-half along with England Sevens player Ruth Laybourne. Highlighting the youth development at the Club, England U20s players Abbie Scott and Rachel Roberts continue to improve while newcomer Amy Needham will also be a welcome addition. Irelands Sophie Spence is also in the side again this season.

A recruitment drive over the summer has seen plenty of new faces to the set-up.

Follow DMP Sharks Ladies on Twitter @DMPSharks

Lichfield

After a hard summer of tough pre-season training, Lichfield have worked hard to be ready for their opening game of the season against local rivals Worcester this Sunday. Benefitting from an unchanged coaching team, Lichfield are looking to continue to build on their success and solid 3rd place finishes in the Premiership over the past two seasons. With some key players still recovering from injury and fulfilling work commitments, some new talent is emerging to step up and the Club will see the progression of some of their U18s straight into senior rugby. Key figures at the Club include Englands Emily Scarratt and Sarah Hunter who will both be influential this season while Tamara Taylor's arrival is a boost.

Follow Lichfield on Twitter @Lichladiesrugby

Bristol

Bristol have moved to brand new training facilities over the summer and now have access to fantastic facilities for themselves with a new club, pitches and clubhouse. The main departures at the Club are Poppy Cleall who has moved on after her time at UWE and Monica Lewinska who has moved home, however the arrival of Welsh international captain Rachel Taylor is a big boost. She will join newly England capped Kate Newton, who is growing into her into her new position at prop, having played second row for many years.

Another key arrival this year is Welsh flyhaf Elinor Snowshill, an exciting young player. There are a further few overseas arrivals with two Spanish internationals Isabel Rico (who has previously played for the club) and Elena Redondo.

Head Coach Susie Appleby will have some welcome selection headaches this season.

Follow Bristol Ladies on Twitter @BristolLRugby

Thurrock

Newcomers to the league this season the T-birds come into the Premiership with the fantastic record of four league titles and three promotions in five seasons.

Again narrowly missing out in 09/10 the addition of some new young County tyros for the 10/11 season gave the team a new look and cutting edge. The league was won comfortably, only losing one game and last season the T-Birds again all before them. They then triumphed in a hard fought battle over Camp Hill to secure promotion to the top level.

The key new recruit this season is England centre Rachael Burford who joins from Richmond while Irish international flanker Louise Austin is also on board. A player to watch is the pacey Tanya Pinkham who provides gas on the outside.

Oakfield is a fortress for the team, having lost just once at home in the last 5 seasons.

Follow Thurrock on Twitter @ThurrockLadies

Round One:

09/09/2012
Bristol Ladies - Darlington Mowden Park Ladies
Lichfield Ladies - Worcester Ladies
Saracen Ladies - Richmond Ladies
Wasps Ladies - Thurrock Ladies