Harlequins’ Vickii Cornborough: ‘Come down and make yourself heard at Allianz Premier 15s semi-final’

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Vickii Cornborough on the charge against Bristol Bears (Getty Images for Harlequins)
Vickii Cornborough on the charge against Bristol Bears (Getty Images for Harlequins)

Vickii Cornborough has a message for anyone coming to the Stoop on Saturday for Harlequins’ Allianz Premier 15s semi-finals against Wasps.

“What I’d ask of supporters thinking of come down is make sure we hear you,” says the Quins’ prop. “You’ve been saving your voice up for 14 months - let’s raise the roof and get that atmosphere going!”

For women’s rugby and the Premier 15s, the return of fans to sport could barely be better timed. Cornborough puts it perfectly: “It’s going to make such a massive difference for us, to be able to feel the crowd, that support, the atmosphere when we are playing, and when we need it most in a semi-final with a Championship on the line, is so exciting.”

The other semi-final is taking place across town at StoneX Stadium, where double champions Saracens take on Loughborough Lightning. But while Saracens Men had the honour of facing Ampthill in front of a crowd in the Championship on Monday night, Harlequins’ Women will be the first side to welcome supporters back to the Stoop. 4,000 are allowed in, and the deadline to get tickets is noon on Thursday.

This season has been played with adapted laws – such as 35-minute halves and fewer scrums (a free-kick is given for a forward pass) – so that the league could get underway without routine Covid-19 testing of players last October. Cornborough believes it has been a triumph – except when she is sprinting around, out of puff.

“As a union and the elite female players in England have had a massive opportunity to be able to play, we are fortunate it’s gone ahead,” she said. “Not all nations have been that lucky. It’s a testament to the RFU that they made sure our game was adapted to ensure we could carry on.

“There’s been so much more ball-in-play time. You are watching the game without the breaks. There’s so much opportunity in attack. As a player, when I’m absolutely blowing, it’s a slightly different story. But it’s great to watch. Knowing Wasps and what they will bring to that semi, there are high stakes and it should be great to watch.

“If you’re a complete novice to the women’s game, this will be a really exciting introduction.”

Cornborough believes the progress in the league’s competitiveness has been visible this year. Saracens beat Harlequins in the final of the first two editions, and boast plenty of international talent (like Cornborough, who has 58 England caps and was part of the recent Six Nations-winning side).

But the chasing pack are catching up fast. She cites the example of London Irish, who announced their intention to set up a women’s team imminently, and Exeter Chiefs, who were new to the league this year and have beaten all four semi-finalists (but failed to make it themselves).

“Until a couple of weeks ago it was up in the air about who would reach the top four. The competition is fierce,” she says. “The standard is increasing all the time, which is such a good thing for women’s rugby and the league. I’m really looking forward to seeing what it brings.

“In terms of interest and development numbers, women’s rugby is the fastest growing sector of rugby. Now we have a competition that is quality week in, week out. The more we can make it accessible to watch in stadium, TV, streaming, it’s going to be fantastic for the growth of the game.”

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