At the beginning of the month, the RFU confirmed both Sale Sharks and Worcester Warriors were given conditional offers to join the Allianz Premier 15s for next season.
At the end of last year, the governing body had omitted the duo from the list of eight clubs selected in the initial tender process but now both will make up the 10 team league for the 2023-24 campaign.
Two of the new sides who have made the cut are Leicester Tigers as well as Ealing Trailfinders Women.
Elizabeth Cartwright spoke to Giselle Mather, Director of Women’s Rugby at Ealing Trailfinders, about the journey she’s been on with the club and her excitement to be joining the Premiership.
Back in 2019 when the Premier 15s went through their second tender process, Ealing Trailfinders made the conscious decision to focus on building a sustainable player pathway before applying for a position in the league.
?? "It was great to feel the excitement and interest in the air of what is coming here at the club!"— Ealing Trailfinders Women (@ealingtfwomen) January 24, 2023
Director of Women's Rugby Giselle Mather discusses her Q&A last week and her plans ahead of our first Premier 15s game in November!#EalingTrailfindersWomen ????
“What Ealing Trailfinders did was put plans in place to build from the roots to the tips,” Mather begins. “They chose to hold off in 2019 in order to apply with the strongest possible case in 2022.
"During this time we have formed excellent player pathway foundations, with our elite academy partnership with Brunel University, Henley College and Cardinal Newman School. We have also formed partnerships with rugby clubs who have thriving girls sections. These clubs are our ‘Pods’ (places of development) and we provide financial support, alongside expert coaching and mentoring.
Mather continues: “Our Trailfinders Rugby Academy programme at Brunel University is exceptional. It provides young athletes the opportunity to develop their rugby skills, whilst gaining a university qualification. The gym and training facilities, which Ealing Trailfinders implemented, are world-class. The first time I saw them, I was like, are you serious?! They are incredible.
“At Henley College, we have four girls who have just been named in England's U18s squad. That’s how we’ve grown into a rugby club. Instead of tip, we went roots. We’ve had that opportunity because we’ve decided to buy into the process later.
"The pathway is in place and is very strong therefore now I have a beautiful blank sheet of paper to build a Premiership side which is an incredibly unique opportunity. I feel privileged to be in that position to give opportunities to talented athletes."
Last summer, Mather left her role as Wasps Women’s Director of Rugby after six years at the club to join Trailfinders. She admits she left with a heavy heart after being a former player at the club for nearly a decade: “Leaving Wasps was tough. I am a Wasp and always have been.
"My father was a Wasp. I played for the club for eight years and coached them back in the early 2000s. I was the only full-time member of staff running the club for four and a half years. I had some amazing staff but needed them to work full-time. I could only afford for that to happen if I left."
Following Wasps Holdings LTD going out of business, Wasps Women are now being solely supported by Wasps FC. The team are still competing in the Allianz Premier 15s this season, but have recently set up a GoFundMe page as they need support with travel and accommodation costs as well as medical supplies.
TRU spoke to Mather before the page was set up by Wasps Women, and she is still hopeful for the club moving forwards: “A lot of the fabulous players, due to the circumstances this season, have left.
"It’s very very sad but what it’s producing at the moment is still very good. Although the results don’t look how people would expect them to look, the players there are getting the opportunity to play and develop their skills in difficult circumstances."
But for Mather, her focus is on Ealing Trailfinders and creating a team ready for the Allianz Premier 15s. So what do the next few months look like? “Firstly, it’s about stretching those that I call my academy so they can be ready to step up and play in the AP15s.
“I’m obviously recruiting a squad which is a fascinating process and getting to meet some amazing people and listen to their stories.
"Female rugby players have really interesting back stories because they’ve had to find a way in sport. They have to do it alongside their studies/jobs. I’m in a privileged position to get to listen to these incredible people. I’m recruiting lots of different players but it’s different for each individual.
"Youth and experience is key, it’s the ideal blend. I’m very keen to give opportunities to young athletes who perhaps under circumstances, haven’t had that. I want to help those players reach their goals and achieve their ambitions. I’m really keen to have some international players too because they bring cultural differences and fantastic diverse thinking”.
It’s clear to see Giselle is extremely passionate about her role with Ealing Trailfinders and growing the women’s game effectively.
Even though there’s still lots of hard work to be done between now and next season, the London club are well on their way to joining the Premiership in a much stronger position than they were four years ago.