Women's Premier 15s: Exeter launch side in bid for league licence

By Brent PilnickBBC Sport
Exeter's coaching team of Susie Appleby (left) and Amy Garnett
Exeter's coaching team of Susie Appleby (left) and Amy Garnett won 165 England caps between them and played at four World Cups

Exeter have launched their bid for a side in next season's Premier 15s.

The club has appointed Gloucester-Hartpury coach Susie Appleby as head coach with former England and Saracens hooker Amy Garnett as her assistant.

The Rugby Football Union will award four licences in March for a revised 10-team league starting in 2020-21.

Exeter are spending £500,000 to set the team up and anticipate a further outlay of between £1m and £1.5m if the side is awarded a place in the new structure.

"Our challenge is to grow the game down in Devon and Cornwall, provide the facility for them to get to a club like Exeter Chiefs," Appleby told BBC Sport.

"But we're under no illusions; to compete at Tyrell Premier 15s level we'll need experienced players as well.

"We're trying to create something that's got the good young players who are hopefully the next best thing and hopefully will stick an England shirt on. But alongside them we're going to need some experience so as we grow over the next few months we're going to be having conversations with experienced players.

"We know what you need as an international player and that's what we're going to create here and we've got the best support that you can have in place."

Exeter aim for sustainable women's side

Tony Rowe and Rob Baxter with Susie Appleby and Amy Garnett
Exeter chief executive Tony Rowe (left) and director of rugby Rob Baxter (right) will support the women's side in their bid to get a Premier 15's licence

Exeter were the only Premiership club to make a profit last season and that money, along with the windfall from CVC Capital Partners' investment of more than £200m in the men's top flight, has helped fund the Devon club's outlay.

While most of the players will have to juggle part-time work with playing, the club does have a competitive budget for their new team.

"We've committed up to £500,000 this year because we've got no income as no team's playing, no sponsorship, but we've got to get it off the ground," chief executive Tony Rowe - who has presided over Exeter's rise from the lower leagues in the late 1990s to a Premiership title in 2017- told BBC Sport.

"I would, knowing the numbers, suggest it's probably going to cost somewhere between £1m to £1.5m to run a women's side currently, if you want a successful side.

"We want the women to stand on their own two feet, have their own sponsors and their own match days so they have income coming in, and I'm sure we can do that.

"Nothing's easy, but it was easier for me when I went to the board and asked for the money when we were making a profit than to go to the board of a company that's not making a profit."

'We know there's a hunger here'

While Appleby moves from Premier 15s side Gloucester-Hartpury, former police officer Garnett has given up the chance to study for teaching qualifications to join the side.

And while there is no guarantee that Exeter will obtain a licence, she says there is a market that can be served in the West Country.

"The university and the college have already got their rugby academies and set-ups and we know there's a hunger here.

"I played at Saracens for 18 years and I never wanted to go anywhere else and that's the sort of thing I want to build at Exeter.

"I want the players to come here, feel like family, stay here and help grow the game here and be part of the product."

RFU to review Premier 15s licences

Saracens Women celebrate
Saracens beat Harlequins 33-17 in April's Premier 15s final

The RFU set up the current 10-team Premier 15s format in time for the start of the 2017-18 season, with each team having a three-year licence.

They will audit the existing Premier 15s sidesexternal-link based on a combination of their on-pitch performance and their ability to deliver the minimum standards in off-field support and infrastructure. The top six sides based on that audit will be given a licence for the next three years.

The remaining four teams, along with the winners of the Championship North and Championship South, will be invited to re-tender for a place in the league, along with other clubs - like Exeter - that wish to apply.

Current Premier15s sides
Bristol LadiesLoughborough Lightning
Darlington Mowden Park SharksRichmond Women
Waterloo LadiesSaracens Women
Harlequins LadiesWasps Ladies
Gloucester-Hartpury WomenWorcester Warriors

"We now need to tick minimum operating standards, and they are stringent," added Appleby.

"We need to make sure we're ticking them before we go to the next step, and that's alongside getting the players in and providing what they need, because there's a lot of clubs in this M5 corridor. We've got Bristol, Worcester, Gloucester-Hartpury and ourselves all trying to compete.

"We need to make sure we have 60 players and the RFU are saying to us 'where are you going to get them from?' That's our challenge, but then it's the added value - how can you add value to a player's life?

"It might not just be on the field, it might be a coaching course or a work opportunity and those are the big things we'll be reaching out to the local community for."

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