Abbie Ward excited by growth of women's rugby ahead of Allianz Premier 15s

Abbie Ward and Amber Reed ahead of the start of the new Allianz Premier 15s season.
Abbie Ward and Amber Reed ahead of the start of the new Allianz Premier 15s season.

By Tom Harle

Bristol Bears and England star Abbie Ward is sick of fielding the same question time and time again - ‘can we have tickets?’

The sixth season of Allianz Premier 15s kicks off hot on the heels of a record-breaking Rugby World Cup, in which Ward finished runner-up with the Red Roses.

The first round of fixtures begins this weekend as England’s premier women’s club competition aims to build on the momentum of its most competitive season to date.

Ward has been struck by the groundswell of popularity in the game - not to say glued to her phone by incessant requests from friends and family.

“The place in which women’s rugby is in right now is pretty exciting,” said the second row.

“We’ve seen over the past month the growth, the momentum and excitement around it.

“Every day I’m having people ringing me up saying, ‘we can’t get tickets’, there’s only standing or all the good seats have gone, and that’s unbelievable.

“It’s so exciting and hopefully we can slingshot that into the Premier 15s. It’s what we all want to see.”

Ward and the remainder of the world’s best players rejoin the league after a minimum of two weeks’ rest, with five rounds of the Allianz Cup having already taken place.

Memories of World Cup final disappointment against New Zealand are still fresh but Ward wants to use it as a platform for the next tournament in 2025, set to be staged in England.

“We’re obviously pretty heartbroken to not be able to bring it home for everyone with the support we had through the tournament,” she said.

“When the dust has settled, we’ll be able to look back and be proud of what we achieved.

“The thing is it’s such a young team, such an exciting team and I’ve got no doubt we’ll learn from all of this going into the next phase of our development.

“The next tournament is a home one for us and we’ll have home support, so between now and then we want to continue to build women’s rugby in England.”

Bristol’s Amber Reed, a World Cup winner with England in 2014, came to the fore last season as Bears jumped from eighth to third in the Allianz Premier 15s.

Into her 14th campaign at the club, Reed isn’t expecting Bears to benefit from the same element of surprise this time around.

She said: “I think we were a bit underestimated at the start of last season because of our previous performances and that worked in our favour, we were able to catch teams cold.

“We have some new things we want to try this season and a way we want to play but we know it’s going to be harder. Teams know what we are about.

“We won’t be underestimated this time, we know we’re into a tough start but we’re ready for the challenge.”

The BBC will cover one game in each round of fixtures with two streamed on Premier15s.com and Bristol Bears first game to be shown on the BBC is in round 2 when they play away to Gloucester-Hartpury.

Allianz Premier 15s - the elite women’s rugby competition in England. @Premier15s