Here's our team by team guide to this season's Tyrrells Premier 15s.
The third edition of the Tyrrells Premier 15s gets underway this weekend.
The league will be played over 18 rounds, culminating on May 30.
There is huge pressure on all ten teams this year because the RFU are conducting an audit on future inclusion in the league with only the top six sides guaranteed a spot to join the next three-year structure, with the bottom four having to retender to be included.
A flurry of player moves and transfers has accompanied the offseason, while there has also been significant investment uplift with clubs including champions Saracens confirming the payment of match fees for players.
Sides with large England contingents were without their key players for a large chunk of preseason with most not beginning club training till late August and it all makes for a fascinating season ahead, with high pressure, high profile games and bigger crowds and investment, Here's our team by team preview.
Along with Harlequins, the set up at Saracens is the standard setter for the rest of the league and the club have strengthened support for the team off the field with a new fulltime S&C member of staff for the women’s programme alongside the appointment of a Director of Women’s Sport and retainers for up to ten players as well as match fees for all first team fixtures.
With a large contingent on international duty over the summer, preseason in north London has been building slowly since July and has included a game against Trojans as part of their warm-up.
Saracens have not been as busy in the transfer market as nearest rivals Harlequins but the reigning champions already have an excellent squad. Signings include Scotland’s Lisa Martin and Richmond's Jade Wong.
Their depth will be tested with players like Poppy Cleall and Zoe Harrison out injured, but over the course of the season, Sarries have all the nuts and bolts to contend for a third title in a row.
Saracens have also strengthened their coaching team over the summer – England legend Rocky Clark is a new forwards coach, joining from Wasps, while another ex Wasps coach John Wilding is an assistant coach.
The rest of the league continues to play catch up with Saracens as the champions for the past two seasons and with talent like Hannah Botterman, Sarah McKenna, the Cleall sisters and Marlie Packer in their ranks, that isn’t going to let up this year.
Head Coach: Alex Austerberry
Captain: Lotte Clapp
Key Signings: Mackenzie Carson (Bristol Bears Women), Jodie Mallard (Loughborough Lightning), Molly Morrissey (Gloucester-Hartpury Women), Lisa Martin (LMRCV), Jade Wong (Richmond FC), Aine Staunton (UL Bohemians & Munster Women) , Jodie Turl (Anglia Ruskin Univestiy and Shelford RFC), Aisha Marzouq (Old Albanians), Rachel Laqeretabua (Richmond FC), Donna Rose (Trojan Ladies), Kelsey Clifford - Centre of Excellence , Shaniah Herelle (Centre of Excellence),, Kate Skelton (Old Albanians)
A disappointing end to the season in the final, will have fuelled motivation for Quins this season and they have made some high profile signings. On paper they are perhaps now the best side in the league - but titles are never won there!
England stars Amy Cokayne and Lagi Tuima are two who catch the eye but Ireland’s Anna Caplice and Scotland’s Chloe Rollie are also major additions while Italy's Giada Franco is a superb backrow player who could well light up the league.
The arrivals are undoubtedly the strongest additions made by any side in the offseason and coaches Karen Findaly and Gary Street will be hoping they make the difference in their quest to win the title having come up short in the past two finals. Added to existing star players such as Ireland’s Leah Lyons and England’s Rachael Burford among many, it makes for a formidable squad with superb strength in depth.
Also back in action from injury is Jade Konkel, the Scottish international, who is on her day one of the best backrows in Europe and her return makes the Quins' strength in the backrow formidable.
Quins are beginning to make a real success of their games at The Stoop and will once again host a Game Changer match there against Wasps later in the season, while they kick their season off with a visit from local rivals Richmond FC. Drawing crowds to the Stoop remains one of the key objectives for those at the club working on the women's brand off the field.
Head Coaches: Karen Findlay & Gary Street
Captain: To be named
Key signings: Anna Caplice (Ireland), Giada Franco (Italy) Chloe Rollie (Scotland), Sarah Beckett, Amy Cokayne, Lagi Tuima (all England), Emma Swords (Saracens) Kiri Loos (Richmond) Alice Sheffield (Wasps), Elle Bloor (Darlington Mowden Park)
Lightning finished an impressive third last season and have made some strong signings this summer, continuing to build their name as one of the new power forces within the game.
Top of the list of arrivals in the off season includes England hooker Lark Davies from Worcester and Scotland’s Helen Nelson, who joins from Montpellier and who is captaining her country in South Africa in the coming weeks.
There are also signings from a number of other rival clubs including Katherine Hobson and Rachael Woosey from Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, while Emma Hardy and Lizzie Adam join with England 7s experience.
Having now firmly established themselves, Lightning are well on track to push the league leaders Saracens and Harlequins this season, with current and former England captains Sarah Hunter and Katy Daley-Mclean playing key roles while Emily Scarratt remains one of the best players in the world, joining up with the talented Carys Williams in the backs.
Six Lightning players also represented England in the U20 Women’s Tri-Nations Cup opener in July so there is a decent core of youth running through the side and like Gloucester-Hartpury, Lightning will be working hard to develop young talent through their university links and set-up.
Over the summer the team prepared through two intense camps and a training match against Harlequins, while they also played in training games against Loughborough Rugby Men’s BUCS 2’s and against Loughborough Town. They will be one of the most interesting teams to watch this seaosn and are welll capable of reaching a final.
Head Coach: Rhys Edwards
Captain: Rachel Malcolm
Key signings: Lark Davies (Worcester), Helen Nelson (Montpellier) Detysha Harper (Waterloo) Iona Antwis (Gloucester-Hartpury) Katherine Hobson (DMP) Rachael Woosey (DMP), Lecky Dunne (Ireland 7s), Emma Hardy (England 7s), Lizzie Adam (England 7s), Alex Bailey (Loughborough College) Morweena, Talling (Loughborough College), Cece Gordon-Hill (Saracens), Harriet Thompson (Litchfield RFC)
Wasps have had one of the busiest off-seasons on and off the field, with the strengthening of the club’s relationship with the Premiership Rugby side in Coventry and overseas preparation in the lead up to the season.
The signing of a partnership with Vodafone between the men’s and women’s Wasps sides has been hailed by the club as a real positive and the side have held joint sessions with the Wasps Academy in a further cementing of the links between the two, which are more difficult for them than others given the geography.
Wasps have a new look coaching team with Buster White, an ex Wasps legend coming in as forwards coach and former Bristol Coach LJ Adams is also now on board joining head coach Giselle Mather.
Player departures include Rocky Clark and Amy Cokayne - blows to their front row depth - while Wasps have yet to confirm a full list of arrivals, additions include Australian Dalena Denniso, Ireland’s Edel McMahon and Spanish players, Isabel Rico and Maria Ahis.
Harriet Millar-Mills will be among the key players to watch as she continues her recovery from two serious knee injuries. Wasps travelled to France earlier in the summer to face French champions Montpellier as they bid to go further than the semi final spots they have reached in the last couple of seasons.
Head Coach: Giselle Mather
Captain: Kate Alder
Key signings: Dalena Dennison (Australia), Edel McMahon (Ireland), Isabel Rico and Maria Ahis (Spain)
A flurry of activity in recent weeks at Bristol has included the high profile arrivals of Welsh internationals Keira Bevan, Siwan Lillicrap, Manon Johnes and Lauran Smyth. The quartet will add real strength to Kim Oliver’s team who will also call on the services of Tom Lindsay, who has been apoointed as forward coach following Jordon Crane’s departure.
A preseason camp in Devon formed part of the summer buildup for Bristol, who will once hope play some games at Ashon Gate in front of big crowds.
Bristol are targeting a top four spot, with home games vital to that effort, and their tough start includes welcoming Saracens, Loughborough and Wasps at Shaftesbury Park in the opening four weeks of the season.
An opener against the league champions is no mean feat but Bristol were only beaten in this fixture 17-14 last year so they will know that at home they are in with a decent shout of an upset.
Key players include Amber Reed, Elinor Snowsill and Sarah Bern, now one of the world's best props, while Bristol had six players involved in England’s U20s team over the summer. At a minimum, a top 6 finish is a must
Head Coach: Kim Oliver
Captain: Clara Nielson
Key Signings: Keira Bevan, Siwan Lillicrap, Manon Johnes and Lauran Smyth (all Wales)
Just five years since they were established, the west country outfit are continuing to build both their talent depth – still largely dependent on developing players from within – and their off field structures.
A positive link with the wider Gloucester club will see the club host a standalone ‘big game’ event in April against Bristol at Kingsholm, which will also see the final league game of the season played there against Firwood Waterloo. The club’s games at Hartpury have also become big events, with double headers taking place alongside Hartpury men’s Championship games.
Although head coach Susie Appleby is leaving in January to join Exeter, the team look in good shape on paper to make a real mark in the top section of the league. Arrivals include Ti Tauasosi from NZ, who has been capped for Singapore, Irish stand-off Ellen Murphy and Italian backrow Francesca Sberna.
Captained and vice captained by the experienced Mo Hunt and Beth Lewis, there is also real excitement about the prospect of young players including Alicia Maude, Mia Venner and Amber Robson – all just 17 and coming up from the club’s junior academy and El Perry returns from Saracens in a front row boost while Lleucu George joins from the Welsh national side.
Preseason has included games against Drybrook and Lille, who travelled to Gloucester for the game while a highly competitive inter club game also sharpened the minds for prospective first teamers.
Head Coach: Susie Appleby
Captain: Natasha Hunt
Key Signings: Ti Tauasosi (Singapore) Ellen Murphy (Ireland), Francesca Sberna (Italy), Lleucu George (Wales), El Perry (Saracens)
Pre season games against the Welsh side Dragons and league rivals DMP Sharks, have warmed Firwood Waterloo up for what looks like another tough season in the league.
After winning just three matches last year, the major changes at the club over the summer have come in the coaching set up with a new-look team headed up by Neil Ryan taking the reigns.
Losing two of their best players in Sarah Beckett and Georgie Perris-Redding is not going to make life easier for Waterloo, who will be looking to strengthen their ranks from top rated local players while the likes of England U20s player Laura Perrin will be key in the centre.
Although they will be targeting a mid table finish, it is difficult to see Waterloo not being one of the teams forced to retender for a league position at the end of the season. Their key clashes will be against Darlington - in a real battle of the north - and Worcester, who were the only side to finish below them last year. Win those and they will be within a fighting chance of getting out of the bottom four.
Head Coach: Neil Ryan
Worcester are taking the positives out of a tough season last year having ended with good momentum following back-to-back victories over Firwood Waterloo and Darlington Mowden Park.
They face a difficult start to the season, playing three of last year's top four in first month and four of their first five games are away, but if they can perform well and settle a new look side they can again look to finish strongly.
The club have made a furry of signings including Irish hooker Sarah Mimnagh from Richmond, Wales lock Gwen Crabb from Ospreys, Wales Sevens wing Caitlin Lewis from Scarlets, England Under-20 centre Jade Shekells from Gloucester-Hartpury and back-row forward Bryony Narbeth from Cheltenham Tigers.
Back-row Lyndsay O’Donnell has been named captain following the move of Lark Davies to Midlands rivals Loughborough Lightning and her Scottish test experience and her club roots as far back as squad who won the Premiership title in 2012/2013, will be vital.
Star wing Lydia Thompson is back on board while Warriors have appointed England Under-20s Head Coach Jo Yapp as Skills Coach to join Director of Rugby Roy Davies.
Yapp, a former Worcester scrum-half and England captain, has been Head Coach of Exeter University Women since she retired from playing.
The club have a strong partnership with Worcester’s Premiership Rugby team are are seeking opportunities for double-headers involving both sides and one confirmed double-header at Sixways will be on the weekend of March 21-22 when Warriors Women host Gloucester-Hartpury, while Warriors take on Gloucester in the Gallagher Premiership.
Head Coach: Roy Davies
Captain: Lynsday O'Donnell
Key Signings: Sasha Acheson, (Gloucester-Hartpury) Taz Bricknell, (Glos-Hart) Gwen Crabbe, (Ospreys) Mary-Anne Gittings, (Glos-Hart) Caitlin Lewis, (Scarlets) Sarah Mimnagh, (Richmond) Bryony Narbeth, (Cheltenham) Georgie Perris-Redding (Waterloo) , Jade Sheckells,(Glos-Hart), Jess Wilson (Peterborough)
A preseason camp in Poland and another with the Army Rugby Union have prepared Richmond for the season ahead.
Having finished seventh last year, Richmond have a new head coach this season in Mike Panoho and a raft of other new coaches behind the scenes, who have spearheaded a different looking summer schedule for a side who have had a number of training games over the summer including against rivals Wasps.
The west London side face a challenging start against last year’s finalists Harlequins and Saracens but there is confidence that the team are on the up after a tough few seasons and they will be pushing hard for a top 6 spot.
Key players will include England stalwart Rowena Burnfield, and teenagers Sadia Kabea and Freya Aucken are both highly rated.
Burnfield is back with Richmond after a short stint with Quins and will play a huge role for the club this year while captain Hannah Field, who has five England caps, will lead the side.
Having lost ground to nearer rivals in recent years, Richmond are more realistically targeting the middle third of the league this year as they continue their rebuild following a major departure of players in recent seasons. They are well capable.
Head Coach: Mike Panoho
Captain: Hannah Field
Key signings: Ellie Boatman (Saracens), Rebecca Scorah (Aylesford), Emma Ljungblom (Sweden), Sadia Kabeya (England U18s 7s)
DARLINGTON MOWDEN PARK SHARKS
Another side who have raided a Celtic national side for players this year, DMP are bringing in Scottish test players Rachel McLachlan, Sarah Law, Abi Evans, Liz Musgrove and Lana Skeldon this season among a large contigent of other new faces.
Those signings will provide a significant experience boost to a side who have had to cope with key departures in recent seasons including England stalwart Katy Daley-Mclean and more recently Katherine Hobson and Rachael Woosey, who have all joined Loughborough Lightning - the team they face on the opening weekend.
The club have also been strengthening their links with local clubs and have added a number of players from nearby sides to bolster a squad, which is supported by a new look backroom team. Key players this season will be will be Lisa Cockburn, Heather Kerr and Trudy Cowan - who has played some excellent rugby for Durham University last season - while Geogina Roberts at 9 wil play a key role.
Canadian fullback Mackenzie Thomas has been named club captain and she will be supported by co-captains Heather Kerr, Lisa Cockburn, Sarah Law and George Roberts in the Sharks senior leadership team.
England’s Tamara Taylor is also back on board and she is taking on a player coaching role while she completes her Level 4 qualification.
Another key signing comes via Spain captain Laura Delgado with the 29 year-old front row adding vital experience and talent to the North East side.
Sharks’ ended last season in 8th place with 4 wins, and will be hoping their influx of players will help them into the vital top 6 placings this year.
Head of Programme :Justin Loveridge & Tamara Taylor (co-head coach)
Captain: Mackenzie Thomas
Key Signings: Rachel McLachlan, Sarah Law, Abi Evans, Liz Musgrove, Lana Skeldon (all Scotland), Laura Delgado (Spain). Teya Ashworth. Jess Cooksey, Lauren Fisher, Amy Lazyell, Orla McCallion, Caitlin Simpson, Lois Brown, Cara Cookland