1. ITV Report

Lichfield Ladies left out of new premier women's rugby competition

Lichfield Rugby Club Photo: Twitter/Lichfield RUFC

They're one of the most established sides in English women's rugby, producing dozens of international players over more than two decades.

Currently second in the women's Premiership, just a point behind the league leaders, they have every chance of being crowned champions of England this season.

And yet as it stands, from next season Lichfield Ladies will play no part in the women's top flight for at least two years. The side's future has been thrown into doubt after they were left out of the new women's Super Rugby competition, to be launched next season.

  • Announcement of Women's Super Rugby competition
Lichfield's Emily Scarratt is one of England's top stars Credit: PA

A new top flight competition for women's rugby in England was unveiled last month, aimed at raising the standards of the domestic game and getting more women involved.

Named 'Super Rugby', the competition brings together ten sides from across the country and replaces the women's Premiership as the top league in the country.

This is another significant development for women’s rugby in this country. Women’s Super Rugby will drive standards in the game, both domestically and at an elite level, and continue to encourage more women and girls to play the sport.

– RFU Director of Professional Rugby Nigel Melville

The sides named in the new Women Super Rugby top flight domestic league are outlined below.

  • Bristol Ladies Rugby Ltd
  • Darlington Mowden Park Sharks
  • Firwood Waterloo Ladies
  • Harlequin FC
  • Gloucester-Hartpury Women’s RFC
  • Loughborough Students (Lightning)
  • Richmond FC
  • Saracens Women
  • Wasps FC Ladies
  • Worcester Valkyries

Of the eight sides currently in the Premiership, Lichfield are the only side to be omitted from the new competition.

  • Which Midlands-based teams will be competing?

Three Midlands-based teams have been named in the Super Rugby league for next year.

Worcester Valkyries, affiliated with the men's Worcester Warriors side, boast several England stars including record cap holder Rocky Clarke. They currently sit mid-table in the Premiership after a mixed season.

Gloucester-Hartpury were established in the summer of 2014 and currently play in Women's Championship Midlands 2, the third tier of women's rugby. Despite being undefeated this season, Super Rugby will represent a significant step up for them - and their first experience of the top league.

Loughborough Lightning are the only student team in Super Rugby - and the only East Midlands side. The Loughborough University first team play in the Premier North league and have links with Loughborough Town for weekend games.

  • What has the reaction been to Lichfield's omission?
Credit: Twitter/Lichfield Rugby Club

Lichfield Ladies responded strongly to the news that they were to be omitted from the competition, saying they were 'surprised and extremely disappointed'.

They also pointed out that eight Lichfield players are involved in this year's Six Nations Championship, as well as a number of World Cup winning players, Olympians and members of the England 7s squad.

We do not accept the scant reasons given as to why we have not been selected and on the contrary believe that we are one of a very few clubs that can, as of today, already satisfy the necessary conditions regarding players, coaching and facilities.

We have one of the oldest Ladies sections in the country and have continually evolved over the past 25 years to be one of the best clubs in the country for both women’s and girls’ rugby.

– Lichfield Rugby Club

The Rugby Football Union are clear that they followed a "rigorous and independently-chaired application process" to select the teams involved in Super Rugby.

“Candidates for the new Women’s Super Rugby competition were required to demonstrate their suitability against set criteria and minimum standards. The focus of these included coaching and training, sports science and medical support, training and playing environment, player pools, and financial means.

“Unfortunately not all the clubs interviewed met the required criteria. The RFU is committed to working closely with any teams unsuccessful in their initial application, helping support future ambitions to compete in the new competition.”

– RFU Spokesperson
Welford Road Credit: PA

Men's side Leicester Tigers have also waded into the debate, saying that they would encourage the RFU to reconsider Lichfield's bid.

The Tigers were quick to congratulate Loughborough Students on being given a place, they said they were 'disappointed' at Lichfield's exclusion.

Lichfield Ladies are at the heart of their community and have thriving ladies, girls, and minis and juniors sections. They have been competing at the top of their sport for a number of years at the same time as developing players to play at the highest level for their country.

Tigers will continue to be supportive of Lichfield and of the game in the Lichfield area. We would welcome the RFU reconsidering this decision on omitting Lichfield Ladies.

– Scott Clarke, Leicester Tigers
  • What happens next?

Lichfield Ladies have said they are continuing to look at their potential grounds for appeal and are currently seeking legal advice.

Meanwhile, a petition urging the RFU to review the club's bid to be included in the Super Rugby franchise has attracted more than 4800 signatures.

Lichfield will play their final Premiership game on Saturday 26th March at their home ground. As it stands, that will be their last outing at elite level for the foreseeable future.