By Thomas Branston
Lichfield Ladies RFC have had their ‘souls destroyed’ by the Rugby Football Unions shock decision to exclude the club from the top-flight of woman’s rugby next season.
The Staffordshire based club has been omitted from the new 10-club Super Rugby League and will start the 2017-18 season in the Championship, despite spending the last 15 years at the top of domestic women’s rugby.
As a result of this decision, Lichfield look set to lose their top stars with several England internationals looking set for moves away this summer including Emily Scarratt, Natasha Hunt and Amy Cokayne.
Director of rugby Becky Williams this week lamented the club’s exclusion from the new Super League and shared the ‘emotional roller-coaster’ journey the club have faced.
She said: “We don’t agree with the RFU’s reasons and we don’t support their decision’s at all. We are not the first nor will we be the last side to take the bullet.
“We will deal with the decision accordingly and will rebuild as a club. We will ensure what has happened to us isn’t too detrimental on the community game in our area.
“Ensuring that we are prepared for the next opportunity to resume elite rugby is vital and we are devastated at being robbed of the opportunity this time round.”
“We have met the RFU’s requirements in full. There were 14 to apply and only ten places, we are devastated that we are not one of those sides and it comes down to funds.
“Its hard not to imagine just what we could have done had we been given the opportunity to be in the elite league next season.”
The Cooke Fields outfit currently sits in second place behind league leaders Bristol Ladies by a single point with one fixture remaining in the Women’s Premiership, which will be Lichfield’s last game in the top-flight for at least three seasons.
Lichfield will celebrate their 25-year anniversary this summer and could be crowned Premiership champions for the first time in their history, and Williams is confident the club can overcome the RFU’s decision.
She said: “It’s our 25th anniversary this summer and we will be having a massive party to celebrate our success to date.
“It has to be about our success rather than this major disappointment but we will overcome adversity.”
There will be no promotion or relegation for the first two seasons of the new Super League and Lichfields’ star players will have to depart or will risk their international ambitions if they stay.
Williams added: “I’ve spoken to all of my players personally. I ensured that all of those individuals based at Lichfield and all of our members of the playing section heard the news first categorically.
“My players deserved to know what was going on and they had to hear it from me, so I made sure that happened.
“It was a devastating blow for everyone involved.”
Lichfield Ladies have produced a number of internationals including England national women’s rugby union team captain, Sarah Hunter. Emily Braund, Vicky Fleetwood, Georgina Gulliver, Natasha Hunt, Justine Lucas, Harriet Millar-Mills, Amy Cokayne, Emily Scarratt and Tamara Taylor have also played for Lichfield and England after being included in the England Women’s elite playing squad.
The club is set for a minimum three-year stint in the championship and Williams is adamant Lichfield will strive to deliver elite level rugby.
She added: “We are going to do everything within our powers to deliver some fantastic rugby and facilitate the development and nurturing our player base.
“We want to continue to be the best community club in the country and strive towards improving the standards and expectations of Championship rugby.
“This is the only option we have as we look forward through the emotional dust that is in front of us.”