Sharks kick off a new era for women’s club rugby at Ashton Gate.

A new era for women’s rugby kicks off on Saturday afternoon as the inaugural Allianz Premiership Women’s Rugby campaign gets underway with Bristol Bears hosting Sale Sharks live on TNT Sports.

Four matches will get the ball rolling as the biggest stars in women’s rugby face-off weekly in the hope of being crowned the best team in England.

Reigning champions Gloucester-Hartpury go in as the team to beat having memorably claimed the title on home soil at Kingsholm last June, beating Exeter Chiefs in the final to pick up their first league crown.

“It was a bit of a fairy-tale season last year for us and a very special one,” Gloucester-Hartpury’s Rachel Lund (above) said.

“But that’s what we achieved then and now we’ve tasted success we are very hungry to back it up again with another title.

“We’ve got our double header with Leicester Tigers coming and what a brilliant way for us to start because we love playing at Kingsholm and the last time we were there as a squad we were at a Premiership home final.”

This year sees two new sides enter the fray as both Leicester Tigers and Trailfinders Women play their first league games on the opening weekend.

Each open their account at home, with Trailfinders Women taking on Harlequins in a London derby on Saturday and Leicester welcoming Exeter Chiefs to Mattioli Woods Welford Road the following day.

“It’s going to be everything,” Trailfinders fly-half Julia Schell said.

“It’s such an exciting time in women’s rugby in general, but also to be starting with a new club in PWR is such a cool experience.

“I haven’t played in PWR before, so getting to lead that legacy with the whole team is half the excitement, aside from all the amazing rugby we’re going to play this year.”

Like plenty of other PWR players, Canada international Schell has recently returned from competing for her country in World Rugby’s WXV competition.

More stars will soon return for their club sides, Saracens’ Marlie Packer among them. The England captain is fresh from leading her team to a maiden WXV 1 title and being crowned World Rugby Women’s 15s Player of the Year [LINK TO END OF YEAR AWARDS].

Packer was also one of seven England internationals named in the World Rugby Women’s 15s Dream team after a dominant campaign that included another Women’s Six Nations Grand Slam.

The flanker enjoyed a good club season with Saracens last time out, helping the North London side to the play-offs yet again before they were beaten by Exeter Chiefs in the semi-finals.

Fellow 2022-23 semi-finalists Bristol Bears will also be a team to watch having added Red Roses duo Hannah Botterman and Zoe Aitchison.

Elsewhere, Harlequins have also recruited astutely, Loughborough Lightning enjoyed a positive period in the Allianz Cup and Sale Sharks will be hoping to improve upon their seventh-place finish last time out.

More eyes than ever will be on the action this season following the landmark announcement that TNT Sports [LINK TO ANNOUNCEMENT] will be the official broadcaster of Allianz Premiership Women’s Rugby.

Adding to the broadcaster’s already extensive rugby portfolio, which includes Gallagher Premiership Rugby and the Investec Champions Cup and Challenge Cup, the agreement will see more than 20 matches broadcast live.

“It is pretty huge for us to be honest,” Leicester Tigers’ Amanda Swartz said. “All the players I know are quite aware it’s a huge deal.

“This deal is going to give us the exposure that we need and keep pushing forward in terms of growing the sport.

“It is going to be a massive move.”

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