Allianz to sponsor Premier 15s as top-flight women's rugby returns
New Allianz 15s season will begin on Saturday, providing competitive game time ahead of the women's autumn internationals in November
Last Updated: 06/10/20 11:55am
The RFU has announced Allianz Insurance as the new title partner for the Premier 15s, with top-flight women's rugby to return this Saturday.
The details of the new arrangement mean the Premier 15s, which is the top-flight women's domestic rugby competition in England, will receive a landmark investment to grow women's and girls' rugby.
The new Allianz 15s season will begin on Saturday October 10, providing competitive game time ahead of the women's autumn internationals in November.
As part of the agreement, strict return-to-play protocols have been approved under the Government's Elite Sport Framework, while laws have been adapted to transition risk and mitigate testing in the current climate - see below for full law adaptations.
Nicky Ponsford, head of women's performance at the RFU, said: "This commitment from Allianz will have a significant and positive impact on the continued success of our women and girls' teams. Attracting a partner like Allianz is also a great honour and shows just how far the women's game has developed."
The Allianz Premier 15s season will start on Saturday 10 October and will be played over 18 rounds, ending with play-offs and a title final on May 8 2021.
The top four teams will play their semi-final over one leg, hosted at the respective grounds of the first and second ranked team after the conclusion of the regular season.
In the first round of fixtures newcomers Exeter Chiefs Women travel to Gloucester-Hartpury, while Sale Sharks Women's close-season signing Katy Daley-Mclean will face former club Loughborough Lightning.
Saracens Women, who won the title in the division's maiden two campaigns and sat top prior to the early ending of the 2019/20 Premier 15s season, take on Jo Yapp's Worcester Warriors.
New Harlequins Women head coach Gerard Mullen starts his tenure against DMP Durham Sharks while Wasps FC travel to Bristol Bears.
Return to Play and Law Variations
Law variations have been approved to reduce in-game face-to-face contact, along with a range of medical and monitoring requirements to mitigate potential transmission risks and to allow competition to start without weekly testing.
All players and support staff are receiving thorough training modules and the choice to opt in to return to competition.
The focus for Allianz Premier 15s teams is on medical and operational practices including; symptom control, temperature checking, minimum operating standards including risk assessments, enhanced cleaning regimes, high levels of equipment and hand sanitisation and comprehensive medical support.
Transmission risk is also reduced through a prescriptive approach to training practices and an 80 per cent reduction in face-to-face contact as a result of law variations including:
- A play advantage law from a knock-on reducing scrums by over 75 per cent
- Free-kicks awarded to the opposition for a forward pass - reducing face-to-face contact by six per cent
- Removal of the option for a scrum at a free kick or penalty - reducing face-to-face contact by seven per cent
- A maul may only have one stop then the ball must be used to reduce the length of the maul
- No players who are not in the start of a lineout can join a maul to reduce the number of players in the maul
- It will only be possible to drive a lineout in 22m to reduce the number of mauls
- Strict social distancing while ball is out of play including set water breaks, named bottles, limited face-to-face warm up
- Game time is reduced to 35 minutes each way to mitigate risk while also recognising the game will be faster with fewer stoppages and thereby supporting player welfare.
The opening nine rounds of the season will be played using the adapted law variations for the elite women's game. The control measures employed will be reviewed and a decision will be made whether to continue with the amendments or revert to standard laws for the second half of the campaign. All matches will be played behind closed doors until further notice.
Ponsford added: "We're thrilled to be able to announce the fixtures for the 2020/21 season. After the early ending of the 2019/20 campaign due to Covid-19, it's been a real whole-game effort to get the Allianz Premier 15s back and I'd like to thank all clubs and departments who have worked together to reach this point.
"The Allianz Premier 15s is set to be the perfect curtain-raiser for an exciting year of women's rugby."