The Premier 15s are expected to continue as a 10-team league next season after confirming that Worcester Warriors and Sale Sharks have been officially invited to play in the competition.
Rugby Football Union was heavily criticized when it announced last year that only eight teams had successfully applied for a place in its first women’s division for the 2023/24 season, with Worcester and Sale both unsuccessful.
Sale’s omission sparked fears the Premier 15s would not have Northern representation in the league going forward, after DMP Sharks – the only other Northern team currently competing in the top flight – decided not to have a formal one to submit an offer.
However, the RFU insisted there was always “capacity” for 10 teams and have now made conditional offers for Worcester and Sale to join the league next year. To give a big boost to women’s football’s geographical spread, the organization will also unveil a “support package” to promote women’s rugby in the north.
In a statement, the RFU said: “The RFU and WP15 recognize the need to grow the game in the north of England and recognize the challenges the region is facing. The RFU has therefore developed a support package to grow the game in the North which, coupled with a strategy for further investment, will allow Sale Sharks to take due account of the bidding panel’s feedback.”
Last month, Worcester announced it was officially parting ways with the men’s team after securing long-term financial backing from Worcester-based company Cube International.
The collapse of the men’s team last year forced the women’s team to operate as an independent entity and the RFU has since recognized the change in the club’s circumstances by honoring it with a place in the competition.
In response to the news, Josh Payne, Warriors Women’s managing director, said: “We are delighted to be invited to continue in the Allianz Premier 15s next season. This is the next big step in executing our new vision for Warriors Women and will allow us to further strengthen our commitment to the community as we move forward and begin to share our plans.”
Worcester rugby director Jo Yapp added: “This has been the most challenging season for staff and players alike. The thought of Worcester not being in the Premier League after so many years was just heartbreaking for the whole community so it’s great that we can now look forward with excitement and security.”
Leicester Tigers and Ealing Trailfinders were among eight clubs selected by the RFU to take part in the Premier 15 next season.