The second match-up of the 23/24 Premiership Women’s campaign for Leicester Tigers sees them face reigning league champions Gloucester-Hartpury.
Leicester and Gloucester come into the new season off the back of successful regular campaigns, with Tigers and the Cherry & Whites topping their respective tables.
Gloucester-Hartpury must now look to do this as the proverbial top dogs, operating with a permeant target on their backs, the one team in the league everyone will be out to beat. Tigers, meanwhile must switch their mindset from top dogs to underdogs as a newly promoted side, adapting to a much higher level of intensity. The stage is set for a true clash of character as well as skill.
Luke Stratford, Forwards coach at Tigers, has worked extensively down with the side and was asked about the successful structure within the reigning Premiership Champions.
Stratford said 'As the women’s game has evolved over the last several years, participation has gone through the roof into their Under 18 program. This has then been feeding into the BUCS which then feeds the senior team, meaning they have an awesome set up that is continually producing exceptional talent. They have also invested heavily in their coaching staff, so they have experienced coaches running throughout the pathway'.
Structurally, it’s a shining example to Tigers as the club begins its own evolution within the pathway system. With the club recently having announced a partnership with Kenilworth Rugby to go alongside an established connection with Lichfield, Tigers have also begun investing in youth rugby, with a ‘Rugby scholarship’ programme at Brooksby College doubling in size over the last year. This is an investment that will take several years to bear fruit at a Premiership level but as Steve Hanna says ‘from small acorns grow large oaks’.
From the burgeoning talent to the established stars, with the recent publishment of the Red Roses contracted players, both teams boast substantial International representatives.
Tigers have signed experienced Internationals Amy Cokayne and Meg Jones, whilst the home side will have six players recently offered full-time contracts by the Red Roses: Zoe Alcroft, Sarah Beckett, Tatyana Heard, Alex Matthews, Maud Muir and Emma Sing.
Not only that, they also have Welsh game-breaker (and Player of the Tournament nominee for the TikTok Six Nations) Sisilia Tuipulotu as well as Red Roses legend and all-round talismanic figure Natasha ‘Mo’ Hunt at the peak of her powers.
These players make up an exceptionally strong core, commanding the game from crucial positions across the field, from the organised chaos of the scrum to the wide-open space of the backfield.
As head to heads go, a clash of the second rows between former World Player of the Year Zoe Aldcroft and Tigers lock, and Championship final conversion hero, Charlotte Fray will be tantalising.
In the backs, there’s a styles clash between Tigers Swedish speedster Amanda Swartz and Gloucster-Hartpury’s Emma Sing, a master of the kicking game, both from the tee and open play.
The game is bound to be one flowing with all-action rugby. Gloucester-Hartpury ranked third in the 2022/23 season for total points scored, despite the side having played a game less than their competitors after a home walkover against Wasps. Tigers, of course, scored tries by the bucketful last year in Championship North 1 and the team are already waxing lyrical about the attacking gameplan Senior Coach Tom Hudson is looking to instil, with multiple options off of every phase and players given licence to get creative.
When asked about what the opposition will bring to the game, Stratford stressed the versatility they offer. 'Gloucester can play a very forward dominant game with a solid set piece and real powerful ball carriers but they also have the ability to move the ball with their skilful and pacy back line'.
“One to watch is definitely Tatanya Herd. She has developed her game massively over the past two seasons. She is a strong ball carrier but can now also distribute very well so she can pose a huge threat when she is at the gain line. Defensively she puts in some great shots and reads the game very well.
Two teams at vastly different points on their journey as a club, the game is sure an acid test to a Tigers side still finding their feet at the top level. What supporters can look forward to is an exciting game of rugby between the Champions and those plotting to reach those heady heights.