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SuperPWR weekend offers women’s rugby chance to shine

Opportunities for women’s rugby to take centre stage are relatively few and far between in a crowded calendar, but this weekend offers a chance for the English top flight to star. A Six Nations fallow week does not mean that men’s rugby stops completely – the URC, Top 14, Rugby Europe Championship and Super Rugby Pacific action ensures that fans are well catered – but with the Gallagher Premiership on a continuing break, this is a significant platform for Premiership Women’s Rugby as the new-look league to make an imprint.

For the first time, all four matches in the round will be broadcast, with two on TNT Sports and two more available online, while Kingsholm, Trailfinders Sports Ground, the StoneX Stadium and cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens provide the suitably swish stadia the league sometimes lacks.

“All the games are being shown on TV or streamed and all at the big stadiums, so it is a pretty cool opportunity for us all to get out there and showcase what we’re up to,” says Emily Scarratt, whose Loughborough Lightning side take on Sale in Northampton on Sunday in the final fixture of what has been dubbed “SuperPWR” weekend.

Emily Scarratt made her return from injury against Bristol last Friday


“We love playing at the Gardens. The Northampton Saints supporters are really starting to adopt us and are our supporters as well now, which is awesome. You see lots of familiar faces that have really adopted us which is exactly what we want. We are trying to continue to take people with us when we come from Loughborough, but also grab a hold of the Northampton fans too, who have been brilliant.

“The pitch is unreal. Just to go out there and play on a carpet like that most weekends is very cool. Obviously, the changing rooms, the stadium, the infrastructure around that, all those little things you perhaps take for granted when you have been there a little while, we fully appreciate it.”

Scarratt made her return last week, bringing an end to 13 months out on the sidelines after a career-threatening neck surgery, one of the sport’s most famous faces lending extra star power as a season break for the Women’s Six Nations nears. Loughborough, whose partnership with Saints affords access to Franklin’s Gardens and Northampton’s training facilities, are hoping to build on a record crowd of 1,703 achieved in their East Midlands Derby against Leicester Tigers.

Even men’s club rugby can struggle to sell tickets on more crowded weekends but there have been signs of real promise within the women’s game this season. Harlequins Women claimed to have broken a world record for a women’s club match when more than 15,000 people came in for the first fixture of their “Big Game” double-header, while, across the Channel, in excess of 6,000 people attended ASM Romagnat’s encounter with Bordeaux in Clermont last week.

Saracens enjoyed a strong crowd for ‘The Duel’ with Harlequins but building consistent attendance has not been easy


Most encouraging of all, perhaps, was the remarkable effort of Saracens to get 3,071 through the gate for their instalment of “The Duel” with Harlequins on the same day that England’s men took on Wales across London at Twickenham. An early timeslot helped, with fans able to get home or to the pub in time for the evening Six Nations fare, but the marketing time, energy and budget ploughed into promoting the league’s signature rivalry was worthwhile.

It is thought that Saracens had hoped to shift the Harlequins fixture to this weekend to try and maximise the exposure it received, but the visit of Exeter to Gloucester-Hartpury nonetheless provides SuperPWR weekend with a clash of real spice and spite. A rematch of last year’s final, also held at Kingsholm, sees Sean Lynn’s unbeaten table-toppers host a Chiefs side looking to regather momentum.

Hopes for a nip-and-tuck battle for play-off places have faded with a stratification of the league table of late, Bristol Bears joining Gloucester-Hartpury, Saracens and Exeter as this year’s four presumed semi-finalists. Sale and Leicester Tigers, who both accepted points deductions after failing to field sufficient numbers of English qualified players, sit in single figures in a battle to avoid the bottom.

But perhaps the most intriguing little sub-group is the trio of Loughborough, Trailfinders and Harlequins, who are vying for fifth. Giselle Mather’s Ealing-based outfit have lit up their debut season with a predictably entertaining all-court game, and the continued financial backing should see them challenging the top four soon enough. Amy Turner’s Quins, meanwhile, have been a real disappointment, with murmurs of off-field discontent again surfacing after the sudden departure of prop Bryony Cleall this week despite a recent on-field upturn in fortunes.

Trailfinders Women have impressed in their debut PWR season


Lightning have also hit their straps of late and are hoping to finish the season strongly either side of the Women’s Six Nations. “The goal for the year was not positional, it was to add a bit of respect back into the Lightning programme and show people that we are here and are going to be fierce competitors over many years,” head coach Nathan Smith explains.

“But at the end of the day, we want to finish as high up the table as possible. We are probably in a little league with Ealing and Quins, and we want to finish top of that – it would be a massive achievement.”

The venue for this year’s PWR final will be confirmed on Saturday as the league looks to top the nearly 10,000 at Gloucester for the decider last year. With another big year of women’s rugby ahead, and the build-up to next year’s World Cup well underway, this is a vital chance to shine.


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