Clubs in the Premier 15s have been given the green light to resume non-contact training as plans to open up England’s top domestic women’s rugby competition to Welsh and Scottish teams are being explored by home unions.
Players in the elite amateur league are now able to resume socially distanced training under ‘stage one’ of the return-to-play guidelines, which allows for individual training or small group work.
It comes as Nicky Ponsford, the RFU’s head of women’s performance, told the BBC that discussions are ongoing between the Welsh and Scottish unions about “how we can continue to develop and push things forward.”
Ryan Jones, the Welsh Rugby Union’s performance director, also told the broadcaster that two Welsh ‘super clubs’ joining the league remained “possibility”.
But the Scottish Rugby Union told Telegraph Sport talks between home nations are in the very early stages as next year’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand remains the main focus. It added that its own strong domestic programme was crucial to help its national women’s team successfully compete on the European and world stages in the future.
Details around a possible start date for next season’s Premier 15s - which was launched in 2017 with a £2.4m investment from the RFU - are expected to be released next month.
Each of the existing ten clubs will need to meet key criteria in order to resume training, including player temperature checks and coronavirus symptom checklists. No timescale has been set for clubs to move to 'stage two', which would involve restricted contact training.
Ponsford said: “After a four-month lockdown period, players need to return to a good training environment to push forward in their physical development.
“Getting clubs back to training and the league up and running is a big priority. Stage one is the first step and we know we need to be flexible given the evolving nature of Covid-19.
“A lot of work has been carried out between the RFU, clubs and wider rugby stakeholders to reach this point and plans to progress to the next stage are being worked through.
"The welfare of the players and staff is our only priority, and we thank clubs for their continued cooperation.”
Meanwhile, the RFU added it is “actively in discussions” with a number of companies in its efforts to secure a new sponsor for the Premier 15s, after crisp manufacturer Tyrrells decided not to renew its partnership last May.