2021/22 Allianz Premier 15s: meet the Title Contenders or Pretenders

Allianz Premier 15s: meet the Title Contenders
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Last weekend, a Saracens side depleted by injury beat Gloucester-Hartpury to secure their position at the top of the 2021/22 Allianz Premier 15s table, with two rounds still to play.

So, with the title race heating up (once sides return from Six Nations representation), Last Word on Rugby considers ‘who are the title contenders?’ and who has what it takes to be champions?

Harlequins Women

The current title holders have had an inconsistent season by their high standards. They have lost five times in the league including to a Wasps FC Ladies team that will still believe they can make the playoffs. They have been able to put in big performances at times too though.

Their most impressive win this season was a rematch of last yearโ€™s final. On BBC they turned over Saracens on their patch with a five-try-performance proving too much for the home side. Moreover, while results might not have always come their way, they have a side littered with quality.

The fact that the recent Red Roses squad is made up of 25% Harlequins Women players shows that should they make the playoffs, they have the personnel to become back-to-back champions. They will need to find some consistency in performance once the tournament resumes. Should they manage this, they are one side who are firm title contenders.

Saracens Women

The current table-toppers have only lost once all season and have looked incredibly impressive throughout the season. Losing in the final and not putting in their best performance when it mattered will be motivating these players to ensure they go one further this season and reclaim the title. Like Quins, they have been big contributors to the England training squads this season. As well as this they have further internationals from the likes of Wales, Canada and the USA.

They have remained largely the same team for the last couple of years. This consistency in selection has created an understanding within the team which makes them so ruthless in attack and defence. Their pack is always physical, and their backline is full of the skills needed to finish any opportunity.

One player who has become a very shrewd signing is Alev Kelter. She was signed from the USA Sevens programme. Cementing a spot in the centres, she has added a real point of difference to the backline with her direct running and distribution skills. This is the team who right now is looking the strongest title contenders, but they will know better than anyone that league position means nothing when you reach the playoffs.

Bristol Bears Women

The Bears sit second in the table after a much-improved season from last year where they finished eighth. This upturn in form can be put down to several reasons including the return from injury of several key players including Englandโ€™s Sarah Bern at prop. Jazz Joyce has been lethal on her return from sevens. Coach Dave Ward meanwhile has had more time to turn this squad into serious title challengers.

One main concern for fans will be the lack of knockout experience for their team. Saracens and Harlequins have lots of players that have been through the finals process and know what it takes to win. The Bears on the other hand do not have that experience. For the moment they will be intent on locking down the second place position for that all-important home semi-final and they will need their supporters to play their part if a trophy is to come to Bristol. There is plenty of international experience though, especially in a Welsh jersey.

Once the knockouts arrive, Bristol may not have all the experience but they have some incredible talent across the team. This has been acknowledged by Simon Middleton who has picked four players from the club in his TikTok Six Nations training squad. I believe this may be a year too soon for the Bristol Bears Women. However, if they can bring their league form to the playoffs then they are definitely in with a chance.

Exeter Chiefs Women

The final team in the top four are the ladies from the southwest. Having only been founded in 2019, this is a team that has spent the past few years gradually improving.

This 2021/22 Allianz Premier 15s season though, they have proven they can do it with the best around. Wins away at Gloucester-Hartpury and Harlequins have been backed up at home, with wins against Harlequins, Wasps, and Loughborough. Those results show that things have been moving in the right direction for the Chiefs. So with only two rounds to go, their destiny is very much in their own hands.

The Red Roses are have not come calling for any of the Chiefs and while the players will be disappointed, this means the club can look after them in the best possible way to ensure they are fresh but match fit for the final part of the season. Susan Appleby will want to keep the players grounded. Now is not the time to go off-script, they need to trust the process. They are not the finished product and have a long way to go. This is especially the case when it comes to closing out tight games. That will come with match experience though as they continue to play high-quality rugby each week.

This is another team that I feel is not quite ready to win the league. Two very tough games to finish do not help and could squeeze them out of the top four. This has been a very positive season for the Chiefs Women and should they get to the finals a trip away will not present any fear for this Exeter team who will see themselves as true title contenders for the first time.

Wasps FC women

Placed in fifth currently, they are ready to pounce as soon as someone above them slips up. They have created a very well-balanced team that is capable of playing several different ways. It is a back three containing Englandโ€™s 15s flyer Abby Dow and Sevens star Ellie Boatman that will cause real nightmares though, they are lethal down the edges.

Both their remaining games are away and they face Saracens in the final round. After a historic first win over Harlequins at the weekend though they will be full of confidence for the challenge ahead, especially with the finals so close.

In addition, they will suffer a slight disruption with five players off with England. While these are key players to the squad, it gives the chance to look at others without the team sheet being completely rewritten. Both starting props will be gone after putting in world-class performances in recent times. They will be expecting to be in consideration for a spot in the Red Roses matchday 23 in a few weeks. With prop such an important position, the upcoming Allianz Cup could be the perfect chance for Wasps to develop depth. This is something they will need if they want to make a late rally for the title.

Have they left themselves too much to do? Only time will tell but until results are confirmed, Wasps FC are ‘in with a shot’ of finals glory.

Other Allianz Premier 15s teams involved:

The next most likely team to make the finals are Loughborough Lightning. However, with nine points between them and fourth place, it looks like even a returning Emily Scarratt will have too much to do for last yearโ€™s semi-finalists to make another appearance.

After that is Gloucester-Hartpury women’s RFC and while they can catch Loughborough, fourth is quite far beyond their reach [at this stage].

Sides not in contention for the playoffs include such stellar clubs as Sale Sharks women, Worcester Warriors women, and DMP Durham Sharks women’s club side from Darlington. These sides have not accumulated the wins necessary, to pressure the top six – yet their participation is just as important as those of Sarries or the ‘Quins women.

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So with the TikTok Six Nations championship about to hold fans’ attention, the 2021/22 Allianz Premier 15s takes a short break after last weekend’s results. Then, at the conclusion of the Six Nations, the women return to club representation ahead of the final two rounds from May 7.

Complete those fixtures, and with the table placings settled for the above sides, the play-offs are scheduled for May 21. All this before the 2021/22 Allianz Premier 15s grand final on Saturday June 4, 2022.

 

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