London Irish have declared their intention to launch a team to enter the top-flight of the women’s game. Preparations are underway with a view to formally applying for a place in the Allianz Premier 15’s for the next intake of teams, due in 2023.
The decision to add an elite tier of women’s rugby at the Club builds on and supports the vision for the women’s game at London Irish. With participation in the women’s game at an all-time high, the decision to introduce a women’s team is a natural next step for London Irish. The Club recognises the growth of the women’s game worldwide and closer to home in the UK – and the desire to introduce a Premier 15’s side that will provide a dual pathway for elite players to progress on both domestic and international stages.
London Irish CEO, Mark Bensted, said: “This is a welcome development for London Irish Rugby Club. It is a logical next step for us and we are excited about getting all the building blocks in place in support of our application to join the Premier 15’s in 2023. There is a lot of hard work ahead, but we are committed to this project as the Club continues to grow following its move back to London.’’
The club will also team up with St Mary’s University Twickenham, where a long-standing relationship already exists. As part of a Club-wide partnership, the elite women’s set-up will work in partnership with the university, sharing coaches and talent, to identify and develop players for on-the-field success, alongside their academic studies.
Director of Women’s Rugby, Mary Fyfe, added: “We are incredibly excited about what the future holds for women’s rugby at London Irish as we prepare to write a new chapter in our history. The desire and commitment to establish an elite women’s team at London Irish builds on the growth of the women’s set-up over recent years and is very much a natural progression for the Club.”
In a further sign underlining the Club’s ambition, an agreement has been reached for Graham Smith – the former England Roses assistant coach who was part of the 2014 World Cup success – to lead the development of on-field performance.
Smith said: “The Club has a shared passion, purpose and vision to take women’s rugby at London Irish to the next level – and I’m very excited to be a part of the journey.”