Premier 15s 2019-20: Club-by-club guide

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Saracens retained the Premier 15s title with a 33-17 win over Harlequins at Franklin’s Gardens in April

The media launch was a success, pre-season schedules are complete and the first ball of the new Premier 15s season is about to be kicked.

The top flight women’s club rugby competition is set to make an exciting return for its third season on Saturday, 21 September, so can anyone knock defending champions Saracens off their perch?

BBC Sport provides the lowdown on all 10 competing sides in the 2019-20 Premier 15s.

Bristol Bears

2018-2019 Premier 15s finish: 6th

Home ground: Shaftesbury Park

Opening game: v Saracens (H)

Coach: Kim Oliver

Player to watch: Sarah Bern. The powerful prop was voted Women’s Six Nations Player of the Tournament this year, finishing as the second-highest try scorer with five in the competition. She has the feet of a winger and she has real potential to be the best forward in the world over the next couple of years.

Sarah Bern carries for England against the Barbarians in June

Bristol Hooker Clara Nielson, speaking to BBC Sport

Targets for the season: The target is definitely to finish in the top four for this season. We were disappointed with where we finished last season. We have had a really strong pre-season and we are feeling really confident. We have got Saracens first game up, which is a good test and we are all excited to face the champions.

Key fixtures: Our local derby is against Gloucester. We won one and lost one last season and we had a big crowd at Ashton Gate last time we played them, which is good. Whether we are at Shaftesbury Park or Ashton Gate this year, we will always have a big crowd for that one.

Darlington Mowden Park Sharks

2018-2019 Premier 15s finish: 8th

Home ground: The Northern Echo Arena

Opening game: v Loughborough Lightning (A)

Coach: Justin Loveridge

Player to watch: Heather Kerr. Despite the club signing a number of players over the summer, it’s figurehead Kerr who will be the one expected to shine this season. The England front row, who played for the Barbarians Women against her country in June, is reliable in the tackle and will be heavily called upon to lead the side in set pieces.

Heather Kerr has played for and against England

Darlington winger MacKenzie Thomas, speaking to BBC Sport

Targets for the season: We are hoping for the top six, which is achievable but we need to have our heads on right from the first game. With our new coaching staff, they set everything up so our stresses are taken away from us and our patterns are in place, so we just have to concentrate on playing.

Key fixtures: I would like to say everyone but probably Waterloo and Richmond. Especially Richmond, because we have a big hedge on them after winning one and losing one last season, so this year we really want to get one over them.

Firwood Waterloo

2018-2019 Premier 15s finish: 9th

Home ground: The Memorial Ground

Opening game: v Gloucester-Hartpury (H)

Coach: Giles Heagerty

Player to watch: Laura Perrin – an Under-20 England international who is set to be a permanent fixture in the senior side in a few years. Perrin is a centre who’s just as comfortable running incisive lines as she is making hard hits. In a young squad, she has potential to elevate her career this season.

Rachel Thomas makes the tackle in the ‘battle of the north’

Firwood front-row Rachel Thomas, speaking to BBC Sport

Targets for the season: We want to finish higher. There are games we want to target and improve on and hopefully push on into mid-table. We have got a lot of young girls who are very keen and enthusiastic and we have new coaches who allow the girls to make mistakes in training and not get down about it.

Key fixtures: Our crunch game is against Darlington in the battle of the north and we usually finish in a similar position in the league. We did have a 0-0 draw against them the season before last, in the pouring rain, but they are definitely the big game for us because we want to say we are the best in the north.

Gloucester-Hartpury

2018-2019 Premier 15s finish: 5th

Home ground: Hartpury College or Kingsholm

Opening game: v Firwood Waterloo (A)

Coach: Susie Appleby

Player to watch: Ellena Perry. Kelly Smith or Natasha Hunt would usually be the obvious choices, but the addition of new signing Perry from champions Saracens adds strength and composure to their scrum and at the breakdown. She will take centre stage in the West Country.

Ellena Perry has moved to Gloucester from champions Saracens

Gloucester scrum-half Natasha Hunt, speaking to BBC Sport

Targets for the season: Definitely top four and then we will push on for play-offs. Everyone wants to win the league and that is why we are here.

We are all competitive animals. For us, it’s about consistency. Anyone can beat anyone in any given game but we need to make sure we know our drills and our processes. The vibe we have got as a squad at the minute is good and everybody is willing to work for each other.

Key fixtures: I’m born and bread in Gloucester and it is always a good battle against Bristol. It is a South West derby, and we also have Worcester up the M5 corridor as well.

Harlequins

2018-2019 Premier 15s finish: Runners-up

Home ground: Surrey Sports Park or Twickenham Stoop

Opening game: v Richmond (H)

Coaches: Karen Findlay and Gary Street

Player to watch: Jade Konkel. Last season’s losing finalists are bursting with international talent and quality, but number eight Konkel is the spearhead of their attack. She carries aggressively on her way to the try line and she will be even more of a force alongside new signings – and fellow back-rows – Giada Franco and Anna Caplice.

Jade Konkel will be hoping to lead Harlequins to the Premier 15s title this season after two runner-up medals

Quins centre Rachel Burford, speaking to BBC Sport

Targets for the season: It’s the same every year – we want top four and to get ourselves into the play-offs and going after that cup. We are not going to hide behind that. Every team wants to win the title.

Key fixtures: It is too soon to just focus on Saracens. We are just focussing on ourselves and we will keep building this year. There will be more than one team to look out for.

Loughborough Lightning

2018-2019 Premier 15s finish: 3rd

Home ground: Loughborough University

Opening game: v Darlington Mowden Park Sharks (H)

Coach: Rhys Edwards

Player to watch: Emily Scarratt. In a side with experienced England internationals Sarah Hunter and Katy Daley-McLean, it’s centre Scarratt who stands out. Considered to be one of the best players in the world, there is very little she can’t do, as she showed against France in the Women’s Super Series over the summer.

Emily Scarratt played an influential role in England’s Grand Slam-winning side

Loughborough back-row Rachel Malcolm, speaking to BBC Sport

Targets for the season: The target is to keep developing and go one further. It’s probably to control games more. Particularly in the semi-final last year – we didn’t play our own game and we played into the opposition’s hands. We have solidified our team and we have had a bit more consistency now. We were a new team at the start of the Premier 15s but now it’s our third season everyone is really optimistic going into the new season.

Key fixtures: Playing any of the top four from last season will be big for us – so Saracens, Harlequins and Gloucester – but I think everyone is going to be really competitive this season after a busy summer of recruitment.

Richmond

2018-2019 Premier 15s finish: 7th

Home ground: Richmond Athletic Ground

Opening game: v Harlequins (A)

Coach: Mike Panoho

Player to watch: Rowena Burnfield. With Anna Caplice jumping ship to Quins, second-row Burnfield is one of the most experienced players in the squad and the only international from a Tier 1 nation. The Red Rose is strong in the scrum, a key target in the line-out and relentless at the breakdown.

Rowena Burnfield is the only international from a Tier 1 nation in the Richmond squad

Richmond back-row Hannah Field, speaking to BBC Sport

Targets for the season: Our biggest target is to reach the top half. We are realistic but we also know we have grown a lot as a club. We have a new coach in this year and he has done a great job of bringing the girls together but also making sure our game plan is linked to our threats.

Key fixtures: Harlequins is the big one for us. Our history dates back as one of the oldest rivalries in rugby. We open our season against them and it is not a matter of getting ourselves prepared for it, we just will be because of the nature of the game.

Saracens

2018-2019 Premier 15s finish: 1st

Home ground: Allianz Park

Opening game: Bristol Bears (A)

Coach: Alex Austerberry

Player to watch: Bryony Cleall. The attention often gets heaped on the other Cleall sister, Poppy, but powerful and versatile forward Bryony had an impressive and influential season last year before a broken fibula put an end to her campaign just before the Premier 15s Final. She just has to keep her discipline.

Bryony Cleall won the Premier 15s title with Saracens and the Grand Slam with England in 2019

Saracens full-back Sarah McKenna, speaking to BBC Sport

Targets for the season: You have got to look at the top prize but it’s a long season and we know we have to back that up with performances. Ultimately we have to take it a game at a time because anything can happen.

Key fixtures: It’s not just about Harlequins it’s about all of the teams being competitive. It can be dangerous to focus on one opponent. We are just making sure we can be the best version of ourselves and hopefully that will convert to any team we play.

Wasps

2018-2019 Premier 15s finish: 4th

Home ground: Twyford Avenue

Opening game: v Worcester Warriors (H)

Coach: Giselle Mather

Player to watch: Harriet Millar-Mills. The versatile Wasps’ back-row will be hoping she can put her injury nightmare behind her to fulfil her potential this season. Millar-Mills had a central contract with England before two serious knee injuries hampered her progress. She will definitely be one to look out for if she can remain fit.

Harriet Millar-Mills will be hoping to put her injury troubles behind her this season

Wasps centre Kate Alder, speaking to BBC Sport

Targets for the season: We have lost out in the semi-finals for the last two seasons so we want to make the final.

We have always talked about it being a three-year plan and perhaps we did a bit better than expected in the first two years, but now we really want to kick on. We do not have the biggest names but we have a lot of history and the morale in our 35th year as a club is very good.

Key fixtures: Historically it’s Richmond, but it’s basically all the London clubs so Quins and Saracens are also among our biggest rivals.

Worcester Warriors

2018-2019 Premier 15s finish: 10th

Home ground: Sixways Stadium

Opening game: v Wasps (A)

Coach: Roy Davies

Player to watch: Lydia Thompson. Worcester have made multiple signings, but it will be winger Thompson who will be expected to grab the headlines. She has a knack for scoring excellent solo tries – including seven in two World Cups – and with Red Roses colleague Lark Davies, now at Loughborough, the onus will be on Thompson to put an injury-hit season behind her and start making and impact for her club.

Lydia Thompson has an eye for the whitewash

Worcester back row Lyndsay O’Donnell, speaking to BBC Sport

Targets for the season: The target is mid-table and we really want to get off the bottom of the table. We have a really young team that we are bringing through and that is going to help bolster our squad. We have implemented a structure in our training to iron out those kinks and that is helping us bond.

Key fixtures: Our closest games are against Darlington and Waterloo, who we got two of our wins against last year. Hopefully, we can get wins against them home and away this year.

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