Ten sides make the cut for new Women’s Super Rugby League

By Thomas Branston

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England RFU have today announced that the current Women’s Premiership will be replaced by a Women’s Super Rugby league for the 2017-18 season.

This major development will expand the women’s game in England and aims to raise the standards of rugby domestically and help support the Red Roses’ ambition to be the best team in the world.

It is also expected to help increase participation and create new commercial partnerships to help underpin the competition.

The ten sides that will feature in the new era of Women’s Rugby;

    • Bristol Ladies Rugby Ltd
    • Darlington Mowden Park Sharks
    • Firwood Waterloo Ladies
    • Harlequin FC
    • Gloucester-Hartpury Women’s RFC
    • Loughborough Students (Lightning)
    • Richmond FC
    • Saracens Women
    • Wasps FC Ladies
    • Worcester Valkyries

However in the current Women’s Premiership competition two sides that will not feature in the new Women’s Super Rugby league are second placed Lichfield Ladies whom have supplied a number of high-profile England Internationals over the years. Aylesford Bulls Ladies who are affiliated with Aviva Premiership side Harlequins will also not feature as they are being replaced by Harlequin FC.

The competition will receive a multi-million pound investment from the RFU over the next three years to help deliver the minimum standards expected and provide high-quality coaching, facilities, training environments and community engagement plans.

The announcement reflects the increasing popularity and success of women’s rugby in England following the Red Roses’ success of winning the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2014 and Great Britain playing in the first Sevens competition of the Olympic Games last year in Rio.

This season has seen the RFU announce its ambitions to double the number of women and girls playing rugby to 50,000 and the arrival of 15-a-side professional contracts ahead of eagerly anticipated Women’s Rugby World Cup in August this year.

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Gary Gold – We must polish the edges ahead of crucial Bristol Rugby clash

By Thomas Branston

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Worcester Warriors Director of Rugby Gary Gold insists his side must “polish the edges” in time for next weekend’s crunch game with Bristol Rugby in the Aviva Premiership at Sixways.

Gold watched his side battle till the very end as they were beaten 24-14 by Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday, but the Warriors boss remained upbeat ahead of his side’s upcoming clash.

He said: “We need to polish the edges a little bit ahead of next week and be a lot more clinical in the things we are doing.

“Northampton have a very good forward pack and when they entered our 22 we neutralised them very well and stopped them from exerting much pressure.

“We turned the ball over a few times and were able to stop their drives very efficiently but there are certainly areas of improvement for us.

“If you get opportunities against good rugby teams then you have to take them and unfortunately we didn’t take them today.

“We need to be more clinical in our execution and that’s one of the learning curves for this group.”

Gold praised the determination shown from his players throughout the encounter with Northampton, especially as they fought to the death, scoring a late try through wing wizard Bryce Heem.

He explained: “The late try made it slightly more respectable on the scoreboard but it shows the fight that these guys are up for.

“As I said when I joined a month ago, all I can ask for is to stay in the battle and we worked extremely hard today.”

The Director of Rugby also looked ahead to next weekend’s “massive” clash with Bristol.

He added: “It’s a massive game. We will take each match as it comes but obviously the relevance of that game is crucial.

“We’re very much looking forward to it.”

David Humphreys: Results from previous encounters don’t count for anything

By Thomas Branston

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Gloucester Director of Rugby David Humphreys is adamant that his side will not rely on their Aviva Premiership victory over Wasps earlier on in the season at Kingsholm.

He said: “Previous results count for nothing. Almost one week to the next counts for nothing.

“If we cut down on our mistakes, unforced errors and cut down on penalties that we concede, and edge the physicality at the set piece then we are a match for anybody.”

Humphreys remains wary of the threats that Wasps have to offer at the Ricoh Arena on Sunday and praises the opposition’s counter attacking rugby.

He said: “We know the challenge with Wasps. They have threats all round the pitch and with almost every stat they are an outstanding team.

“That in itself has given us a really good focus ahead of this weekend.

“To be where Wasps are in the Aviva Premiership and to be in the knockout stages of Europe then you’ve got to have an all round game.

“They are strong, they’ve recruited well and they’ve built a really strong and stable coaching team and they know how they want to play.

“Their biggest threat is to score tries out of nothing even with last weeks game they didn’t play as well as they can but still scored tries almost for fun.”

The Cherry and White’s recorded a shock 36-18 win over Wasps earlier in the season with the visitors coming in off the back of beating Saracens 31-23 and Humphreys is hopeful that his side can repeat their performance.

He added: “We’ve got to make sure we control the pace of the game and control field position.

“We’ve got to make sure when we have the ball we need to take those opportunities that come our way.

“If you kick well teams don’t get the opportunity to run back. The kick is only as good as the chase but that’s something that’s been a massive part of our game this season and it will be tested against Wasps.

“I don’t think confidence and belief have really been an issue we are unbeaten in five of the previous six games.

“We were knocked back by that Leicester performance, forget about the result but that performance wasn’t what we’ve set ourselves out to be this year.

“We’ve said all along that it was a blip, we took the blame on how we prepared and set up for the game and its something we’ve learnt from and something that won’t happen again this season.”

Billy Twelvetrees: Gloucester’s clash with Aviva Premiership leaders Wasps will be a quicker affair

By Thomas Branston

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Billy Twelvetrees predicts Gloucester Rugby’s Aviva Premiership clash with Wasps on Sunday (kick-off 1pm) will be faster-paced than their victory over Saracens last weekend.

The Cherry and Whites go into the game having beaten the reigning Premiership champions in a dramatic 31-23 victory at Kingsholm and in-form centre Twelvetrees knows what challenges lie ahead of their trip to Coventry.

He said: “It will be a different game all together, at Kingsholm it’s a slightly stickier surface but at Coventry it’s a fast track with harder ground.

“The way Wasps play their rugby will make it a faster game but we know what we have to do to win games.

“We know how important the breakdown is going to be and how important the set piece is.”

Wasps sit at the peak of the Aviva Premiership six points clear of second place Saracens having won 11 of their 15 games played this season.

The home side come into the game off the back of a 34-28 defeat to Sale Sharks at the AJ Bell Stadium and Twelvetrees, who kicked a crucial penalty late on to help Gloucester secure a win over Saracens knows that staying calm in key situations will help the team.

He said: “Staying relaxed we focus a lot on that in key moments. You never know what rugby is going to kick at you.

“Decisions do and don’t go your way but we’ve just got to stay in the moment and make the right decisions at the time.

“It’ll be different but very much a similar processes from our point of view.”

Twelvetrees has played a key role in Gloucester’s season so far but is wary of Wasps’ lineup ahead of Sunday’s matchup at the Ricoh Arena.

He added: “It’s a challenge, they have great players all round the park.

“We want to impose ourselves. Everyone knows what we are about and what Wasps are about so we need to get that physical dominance in the game.

“If we let them get on the front foot then it will be dangerous as we’ve seen before that’s why they are top of the Aviva Premiership.

“We see it as a challenge and one we look forward to.”

REPORT | Worcester Valkyries 14-34 Aylesford Bulls Ladies

By Thomas Branston

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Worcester Valkyries have qualified for the Women’s Senior Cup plate semi-finals despite slipping to a 34-14 defeat against Aylesford Bulls Ladies at Sixways on Sunday.

Aylesford produced a dominant first-half scoring four tries courtesy of Holly Myers and a hat-trick from Deirbhile Nic A Bhaird.

Valkyries’ Heather Cowell scored a sensational try from her own 22 in a promising start to the second period but tries from Jess Wooden and Hannah Field secured a place in the Cup semi-finals for Aylesford.

Cowell added her second try at the death and despite the loss, Donna Kennedy’s Worcester side will take on Thurrock Ladies on Sunday 12 March at Sixways as they look to book a place in the plate final.

Aylesford made their intentions clear from their first attack of the game by forcing Worcester back into their own 22.

And it didn’t take long for them to open the scoring as Bhaird bundled her way over after a well-constructed driving maul.

The Bulls hit Valkyries with both barrels as Myers went over after Wooden created a hole in the defence to set up the winger.

Wooden converted and Aylesford had their third after Bhaird found space to cleverly scuttle her way through.

Worcester grew into the game and thought they had their first score when Sam Bree dived over but it was disallowed as her foot was deemed to have been in touch.

Mistakes took their toll on the home side as Aylesford added their fourth try just before half-time as prop Bhaird claimed her hat-trick, crashing over from close range.

Aylesford led 22-0 at the break but Worcester responded in the second period with a stunning try from Cowell, who received the ball deep in Valkyries’ 22 and ran the length of the field to score with Goddard adding the extras.

However, Wooden extended Aylesford’s lead after the restart with a try and Field then crossed for the visitors’ sixth after the Bulls put together 15 phases.

Wooden knocked over the conversion before Valkyries scored a consolation try late on with Cowell racing over for her second and Ceri Large added the conversion with the last action of the game.

With two wins from four Senior Cup games, Valkyries have progressed to the Plate semi-final to face Thurrock before they travel to Aylesford on Sunday 26 March for their final Women’s Premiership match of the season.

Valkyries | 15 Alexia Mavroudis (Bixley 63), 14 Heather Cowell, 13 Zoe Bennion, 12 Megan Goddard, 11 Sam Bree, 10 Ceri Large; 9 Bianca Blackburn, 8 Lisa Campbell (c), 7 Sian Williams (Donnahey 67), 6 Rosie Haigh (Smith 67), 5 Courtney Gill, 4 Stacey Hiscox, 3 Lizzie Binks, 2 Lark Davies, 1 Kelly Phasey (Wilson 34)

Replacements | 16 Gemma Wilson, 17 Steph Smith, 18 Sarah Davey, 19 Rhi Donnahey, 20 Rhi Parker, 21 Sam Parker, 22 Jaz Bixley

Timeline
02m | Bhaird try 0-5
05m | Myers try 0-10
06m | Wooden con 0-12
11m | Bhaird try 0-17
38m | Bhaird try 0-22
51m | Cowell try 5-22
52m | Goddard con 7-22
54m | Wooden try 7-27
62m | Field try 7-32
63m | Wooden con 7-34
80m | Cowell try 12-34
80m | Large con 14-34

REPORT | Gloucester 31-23 Saracens

By Thomas Branston

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Richard Hibbard scored late as Gloucester secured a famous 31-23 victory over reigning champions Saracens in the Aviva Premiership at Kingsholm on Friday night.

Gloucester moved up one place to eighth in the league after Billy Burns gave the cherry and whites an early lead from the boot before Saracens added a try from Shalk Brits and penalties from Marcelo Bosch and Alex Lozowski gave the visitors the lead.

The cherry and whites added a try of their own with Tom Marshall scrambling his way over the whitewash, this accompanied by three more Burns penalties to give Gloucester a 16-13 lead at half-time.

Jeremy Thrush scored early on in the second-half to give the hosts a ten-point lead before a Lozowski penalty and Will Fraser try levelled the match at 23-23 but a Twelvetrees penalty and late Richard Hibbard try gave the hosts a vital win.

In a scrappy opening affair Gloucester forced a cheap mistake from Saracens and added the games first points with Burns converting his kick as it just found its way over giving the hosts a 3-0 lead.

Saracens responded quickly and scored a superb team try just minutes later. The hosts were unable to react quickly enough.

Quick ball out wide allowed an overlap and Brits strolled through the gap to give the Londoners the lead and Lozowski added the conversion.

Bosch extended the lead with an effort from long range from his right foot giving Saracens a 3-10 lead.

Gloucester remained patient and soon found a way through the visitors defence with the cherry and whites scoring a team try of their own with Marshall scuttling under the hits to score.

Burns added the following conversion in front of the shed to draw the hosts level at 10-10.

Saracens then earned a penalty for continuous infringements and Lozowski made no mistakes with his penalty from close-range as the Londoners regained the lead.

This did not faze the hosts as Burns added two more penalties before the half-time whistle and Gloucester took a deserving 16-13 lead into the break.

The home side forced uncharacteristic errors from the reining champions that led to Thrush picking the ball from the ruck to score.

Burns added the conversion with Gloucester taking a 23-13 lead before Lozowski hit back adding another penalty to creep the visitors back within a converted try of Gloucester.

Gloucester’s Paul Doran-Jones received a yellow card for pulling down the maul and Saracens took advantage with Fraser crashing over from a close-range driving maul and Lozowski added the extras to level the match at 23-23.

Twelvetrees notched Gloucester in the lead with a late penalty as kicking replacement for Burns who left the field on a stretcher.

Hibbard scored late on to secure a Gloucester win after diving over off the back of a driving maul sending Kingsholm into delirium.

For Gloucester:

Tries: Marshall, Thrush, Hibbard
Cons: Burns 2
Pens: Burns 3, Twelvetrees

For Saracens:
Tries: Brits, Fraser
Cons: Lozowski
Pens: Bosch, Lozowski 2

Gloucester: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Matt Scott, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 David Halaifonua, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Willi Heinz (c), 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Jacob Rowan, 6 Ross Moriarty, 5 Jeremy Thrush, 4 Tom Savage, 3 Salesi Ma’afu, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Josh Hohneck
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu’u, 17 Yann Thomas, 18 Paul Doran-Jones, 19 Mariano Galarza, 20 Lewis Ludlow, 21 Callum Braley, 22 James Hook, 23 Henry Trinder

Saracens: 15 Duncan Taylor, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt (c), 11 Mike Ellery, 10 Alex Lozowski, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Jackson Wray, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Will Fraser, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 Michael Rhodes, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Jared Saunders, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Petrus Du Plessis, 19 Mark Flanagan, 20 Kelly Brown, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Max Malins, 23 Matt Gallagher

Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: Jack Makepeace, Nigel Carrick
TMO: David Grashoff

REPORT | Worcester Valkyries 36-5 Darlington Mowden Park Sharks

By Thomas Branston

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Heather Cowell scored a first-half hat-trick as Worcester Valkyries stormed to a 36-5 bonus-point win over Darlington Mowden Park Sharks in the Women’s Senior Cup at Sixways on Sunday.

Worcester took full control in the first-half as Cowell scored a treble along with scores for Lark Davies, Alexia Mavroudis and Samantha Bree as they went in 36-0 ahead at the break.

Valkyries couldn’t add to their score after the interval and it took Darlington till the very last minute of the match to get their first points on the board, as Lauren Taylor crashed over with the last action of the game.

Valkyries scored with their first attack of the match as Cowell found space out wide to dive over in the corner and Ceri Large added the extras.

Worcester looked to gain momentum with their early try and dominated possession and territory.

It didn’t take long for Davies to add Worcester’s second as the prop powered her way over after a well-orchestrated driving maul from a lineout.

Darlington failed to put a stamp on the game early on and made several mistakes as the Valkyries capitalised.

Mavroudis added a third for the hosts as the ball was recycled quickly and Large and Rachel Lund combined well before the Dutch winger went over.

Large added the conversion but just six minutes after scoring, Mavroudis received a yellow card for a high tackle.

However, this didn’t stop Worcester going further ahead as Cowell notched her second try after receiving the ball out wide.

Worcester then added a fifth following good work from Large, who dummied two passes to create space, and Bree then accelerated past the Darlington defence to score.

And Worcester had time for one more before the half-time whistle as Cowell rounded off her hat-trick with a superb run from the Darlington 22 to score in the corner.

In a fiery second-half, Sharks started to gain some momentum in attack and put Worcester under pressure.

However the home side stayed on top and Worcester were gifted an advantage as Taylor received a yellow card for a high tackle.

With a player advantage, Valkyries nearly scored another with substitute Alex Butterworth going a metre short but unfortunately dropping the ball in contact.

The game’s momentum swung both ways during the second period with both sides struggling to dominate both possession and territory.

Valkyries’ defence performed phenomenally stopping Sharks scoring on numerous occasions but their resilience was broken in the last play of the game as Taylor collected the ball out wide to score.

Valkyries are next in action against Aylesford Bulls Ladies at Sixways on Sunday 19 February in the Women’s Senior Cup.

Valkyries | 15 Alexia Mavroudis, 14 Brooke Clarke, 13 Sam Bree, 12 Rachel Lund (Butterworth 66), 11 Heather Cowell (Bixley 58), 10 Ceri Large, 9 Bianca Blackburn (Parker 51), 8 Lisa Campbell (c), 7 Sian Williams, 6 Helena Bunce (Davey 38), 5 Courtney Gill, 4 Stacey Hiscox (Haigh 43), 3 Kathryn Cobain, 2 Lark Davies, 1 Harriet Dunn

Replacements | 16 Rhi Donnahey, 17 Sarah Davey, 18 Rosie Haigh, 19 Jaz Bixley, 20 Rhi Parker, 21 Alex Butterworth, 22 Jo Richards

Timeline
02m | Cowell try 5-0
03m | Large con 7-0
07m | Davies try 12-0
16m | Mavroudis try 17-0
17m | Large con 19-0
25m | Cowell try 24-0
30m | Bree try 29-0
36m | Cowell try 34-0
36m | Large con 36-0
80m | Taylor try 36-5
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