Premier 15s to restart on Saturday with adapted laws and no testing

By Sara OrchardBBC Sport
Saracens lift the Premier 15s trophy
Saracens - Premier 15s champions in 2018 and 2019 - were leading the table when the league was declared null and void in April

Premier 15s will use adapted laws - including 35-minute halves - to minimise Covid-19 transition although players will not be tested when the new seasons starts on Saturday.

Allianz will be the new title sponsor for England's top women's rugby league, after ploughing in a six figure sum. This comes after the Rugby Football Union (RFU) announced a 25% funding cut last week.

The men's Premiership resumed on 14 August and players are being tested, meaning no law adaptations were needed.

The RFU said that testing had not been introduced for the women's league, which was stopped in March, because it includes a mix of professional and amateur players, meaning work schedules could get in the way for some.

England fly-half Katy Daly-Mclean is happy with the league restart.

"We want to play and, for me, that's the biggest thing," she said.

"I want to play, so I'm going to be a really responsible adult in terms of where I go and what I do. I think if everybody does the same then we've given ourselves the best possible opportunity to go out there and play."

The adapted laws mean teams will play 35-minute halves and there will be fewer scrums as, among other changes, free-kicks will be given for a forward pass and there will be no scrum option at a free-kick or penalty.

England scrum-half Natasha Hunt told BBC Sport that the speed of the game will increase as a result.

"I love a fast tempo game," she said. "I love a quick tap when it's on, so I'm super excited to get out there and play that way."

Travel rules & temperature checks

The RFU said the aim of the law variations, which will be reviewed after nine rounds, is to "reduce in game face-to-face contact" and "mitigate potential transmission risks and to allow competition to start without weekly testing".

The RFU has included reserve weekends in the fixture list to allow for matches to be rearranged in case of an outbreak within a squad or a lockdown.

Players and club staff have to adhere to strict guidelines including temperature checks, symptom monitoring and hygiene protocols, with any individual who does not comply unable to train or play.

Giselle Mather, Wasps' director of rugby, said that, like most clubs, they use an app where players fill in a symptoms questionnaire.

"I have four people who monitor that app and if a player hasn't filled it in by midday I don't let them train," she said.

There are also rules around travel to games, eating as a squad and overnight stays that teams must follow.

Despite the obvious risks that the women are taking, there is a clear desire for the league to restart in the new form.

England's main World Cup rivals New Zealand and France have both resumed their women's leagues in some form.

Although there was an outbreak of coronavirus at Sale Sharks men's side, with 19 players testing positive, head coach of the women's side Darren Lamon confirmed his players had been kept separate.

The semi-finals will be played over one leg rather than two, meaning the teams finishing first and second in the league will host the respective semi-final games. The final will be played on 8 May and the season will begin without spectators.

No details around the what the new sponsorship deal is worth to the women's game have been disclosed by English Rugby's governing body, except that the amount is "six-figures".

The deal covers both the Premier 15s and England's women.

Nicky Ponsford, the RFU's head of women's performance, said that restarting the league had been "a real whole-game effort".

"The Allianz Premier 15s is set to be the perfect curtain-raiser for an exciting year of women's rugby," she added, referencing the World Cup set to begin in September 2021.