London Irish have confirmed they intend to have a women’s team launched to compete in the Allianz Premier 15s by the start of the league’s new cycle in 2023.
Sale Sharks and Exeter Chiefs have just completed their inaugural seasons as members of the top flight in women’s rugby, and London Irish described it as ‘a natural next step’ for the club to establish a women’s team.
The Exiles are one of five Premiership clubs who are not represented in the Premier 15s, but have made steps to build a team by reaching an agreement with former Red Roses assistant coach Graham Smith to have a senior role.
A club statement confirmed: “London Irish has declared its 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.
“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 Ladies RFC, the club’s current amateur side known as ‘The Emeralds’, have won three successive promotions and are set to play in the Women’s Championship South West 2 for the 2021-22 season.
The team’s director of women’s rugby, Mary Fyfe, said: “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.”
Irish will have to wait for two years until they could feasibly join the Premier 15s after the league started a new three-year cycle operated and funded by the RFU this season.
Sale Sharks finished in ninth while Exeter surprised many by vying for a play-off position, but had to settle for sixth as Loughborough Lightning clinched the final semi-final spot.
Towards the end of the 2022-23 season teams will be notified of their required independent audit to comply with the RFU’s minimum operating standards.
Richmond and Firwood Waterloo lost their status as Premier 15s clubs to pave the way for Sale and Exeter.