The Rugby Football Union has today announced Allianz Insurance as the new Insurance Partner of England Rugby and the title partner for the Premier 15s, with the official name of the competition being ‘Allianz Premier 15s’.
Allianz is committed to supporting the top-flight women’s domestic rugby competition in England as well as the England Rugby teams and the community game in line with its commitment to promoting inclusion, diversity and excellence.
As the Official Insurance Partner of England Rugby, Allianz will continue its long involvement in the sport, whilst supporting the RFU in building a sustainable and diverse future for rugby.
One of the largest general insurers in the UK, Allianz Insurance has a long history in rugby and is excited about turning its support and attention to the women and girls’ game which is a strategic priority for the RFU. Together the two organisations will continue the strong growth trajectory of the sport through increased awareness activities and programmes like Inner Warrior.
Nicky Ponsford, Head of Women’s Performance at the RFU said: “This commitment from Allianz will have a significant and positive impact on the continued success of our women and girls’ teams.
Attracting a partner like Allianz is also a great honour and shows just how far the women’s game has developed.”
Simon McGinn, general manager, Commercial & Personal, Allianz Insurance, said: “We are delighted to announce this exciting new agreement with England Rugby as the Official Insurance Partner, which will see us become partner to the men’s and women’s England rugby teams. Allianz has a longstanding history with this fantastic sport and we are looking forward to continuing our involvement through this new partnership.
Our partnership with the RFU also provides us with an excellent new opportunity to support women’s sport, as we become the title partner of the Premier15s and Inner Warrior, the grassroots programme to encourage girls and women into sport.”
The Allianz Premier 15s season will start on Saturday 10 October and will be played over 18 rounds ending with play-offs and a title final on 8 May 2021 (venue TBC).
The top four teams will play their semi-final over one leg, hosted at the respective grounds of the first and second ranked team after the conclusion of the regular season.
In the first round of fixtures newcomers* Exeter Chiefs Women travel to Gloucester-Hartpury while Sale Sharks Women’s close-season signing Katy Daley-Mclean will face former club Loughborough Lightning.
Saracens Women, who won the title in the division’s maiden two campaigns and sat top prior to the early ending of the 2019/20 Premier 15s season, take on Jo Yapp’s Worcester Warriors.
New Harlequins Women head coach Gerard Mullen starts his tenure against DMP Durham Sharks while Wasps FC travel to Bristol Bears.
A full listing of the fixtures can be seen here.
Return to Play
The Allianz Premier 15s season is starting under the Government’s Elite Sport Return to Play Guidance. Law variations have been approved** to reduce in game face-to-face contact along with a range of medical and monitoring requirements to mitigate potential transmission risks and to allow competition to start without weekly testing.
All players and support staff are receiving thorough training modules and the choice to opt in to return to competition.
Before seeking approval for adapted laws, the RFU undertook a detailed risk analysis which demonstrated that compared to the Men’s Elite Game there was a higher frequency of scrums, but a lower frequency of high or smother tackles in the Women’s Elite Game (i.e. those with greater face-to-face contact).
A risk mitigation strategy has been agreed for the Allianz Premier 15s which is different to the Men’s Premiership to reflect the different on-field risk as well as recognising the practicalities of weekly testing among players with careers in addition to rugby which would prohibit testing at specific times and locations and would present challenges in terms of self-isolating as a result of false positives.
The focus for Allianz Premier 15s teams is on medical and operational practices including; symptom control, temperature checking, minimum operating standards including risk assessments, enhanced cleaning regimes, high levels of equipment and hand sanitisation and comprehensive medical support.
Transmission risk is also reduced through a prescriptive approach to training practices and an 80% reduction in face-to-face contact as a result of law variations including:
• A play advantage law from a knock-on reducing scrums by over 75%
• Free kicks awarded to the opposition for a forward pass – reducing face-to-face contact by 6%
• Removal of the option for a scrum at a free kick or penalty – reducing face-to-face contact by 7%
• A maul may only have one stop then the ball must be used to reduce the length of the maul
• No players who are not in the start of a lineout can join a maul to reduce the number of players in the maul
• It will only be possible to drive a lineout in 22m to reduce the number of mauls
• Strict social distancing while ball is out of play including set water breaks, named bottles, limited face-to-face warm up
• Game time is reduced to 35 minutes each way to mitigate risk while also recognising the game will be faster with fewer stoppages and thereby supporting player welfare
The opening nine rounds of the season will be played using the adapted law variations for the elite women’s game. The control measures employed will be reviewed and a decision will be made whether to continue with the amendments or revert to standard laws for the second half of the campaign. All matches will be played behind closed doors until further notice.
Ponsford added: “We’re thrilled to be able to announce the fixtures for the 2020/21 season. After the early ending of the 2019/20 campaign due to Covid-19, it’s been a real whole-game effort to get the Allianz Premier 15s back and I’d like to thank all clubs and departments who have worked together to reach this point.
The Allianz Premier 15s is set to be the perfect curtain-raiser for an exciting year of women’s rugby.”
* In April 2020, the 10 clubs invited to participate in the division for the 2020/21-2022/23 seasons were announced following an audit and tender process.
** By World Rugby, RFU Laws Sub Committee and RFU Council and in consultation with Public Health England.