The countdown to the first round of Tyrrells Premier 15s fixtures is well and truly underway following the launch of the new season at Twickenham Stadium this week.
Making its debut last season, the competition saw record attendances, quality competition and provided a pathway for several players to be fast-tracked to represent England.
The new campaign kicks off at the beginning of September and more of the same is expected as Saracens look to retain the title they won against Harlequins in a thrilling final.
And with the 2019 Women’s Six Nations in the back of their mind, many players will be looking to make a statement for their club sides ahead of next year’s Championship.
The next big thing
The rise of Ellie Kildunne is a prime example of the impact the inaugural Tyrells Premier 15s season has had on the England team in the past year.
Her performances for Gloucester-Hartpury in the 2017/18 campaign ensured she featured throughout the 2018 Six Nations, having made her Red Rose debut off the bench in 2017.
The 18-year-old started all five of England’s games in this year’s Championship, scoring five tries – including a brace against Wales – to help her side finish second in the table.
“We need to keep on training, get game time, keep on playing with the England girls and keep on progressing in that,” said Kildunne, when asked about her ambitions for the coming season.
“I still want to become a better player than I am at the moment. I need to keep on training and as a team keep on doing what we do.”
Hannah Botterman is another who earned her England call-up on the back of her performances for Saracens in the Tyrrells Premier 15s during last season.
Her Saracens team-mates Zoe Harrison and Helena Rowland will also be looking to press their case for inclusion in the England squad ahead of the 2019 Six Nations.
Elsewhere, Worcester Valkyries players Charlie Wilcock, Akina Gondwe and Cara Brincat are other young players worth keeping an eye on during the coming season.
It has been a busy summer for Loughborough Lightning, who have signed Red Roses trio Katy Daley-Mclean, Justine Lucas and Jo Brown for the upcoming season.
England captain Sarah Hunter, who is player-coach at Loughborough, believes the club has added real strength in depth to the squad as they look to improve on last season’s finish.
“We’ve had a few new signings that have added some strength in depth to our squad,” she said.
“Players have really kicked on over the summer and have been challenged on and off the field, while there are a number of youngsters coming through also which shows how much the game is developing.
“It’s exciting and pushes us all on to be better and keep improving.”
Worcester Valkyries have also added several talented international players, with winger Lydia Thompson – a double tryscorer in the 2017 Rugby World Cup final – returning to the club.
She is joined by England tighthead Laura Keates, who returns to the fold having missed the entirety of last season through injury picked up during her country’s World Cup preparations.
Stacey Maguire, who previously represented England U20s, will also feature for the Valkyries along with scrum-half Brooke Bradley, who has joined from league rivals Bristol Bears.
Six Nations’ internationals
Scotland international Hatty Cumber has joined the Valkyries from Kenilworth, with the 23-year-old centre signing from Kenilworth having also represented Warwickshire last season.
Meanwhile, another Scot hoping to light up the Tyrrells Premier 15s will be Lisa Siobhan Thomson, one of eight contracted players named by Scottish Rugby ahead of the 2018/19 season.
The centre has moved from Lille Metropole Rugby Club Villeneuvois (LMRCV) in France to Tyrrells Premier 15s side Darlington Mowden Park Sharks.
She made her international debut against England in the 2016 Women’s Six Nations opener, before scoring her first international try against Italy in Bologna.
Loughborough Lightning also have Scottish representation in the form of Sarah Ann Bonar, who featured in every game of the 2017 Women’s Six Nations, and captain Rachel Ann Malcolm.
Wales will be strongly represented by Bristol Bears, with outside half Elinor Snowsill one of several players from the country in the squad for the coming season.
She will be joined by the likes of Abbie Flemming, Caryl Thomas, Carys Phillips and Rhi Parker in the Bears team and Snowsill said she is looking forward to the new season.
“There has been quite a lot of movement between clubs and I think once that settles down and people settle, hopefully it will be a competitive season,” she said.
The signings of Scotland back rower Jade Konkel and Ireland front row forward Leah Lyons have also bolstered the Harlequins squad following their defeat in the final last season.