Saracens' Poppy Cleall relishing new chance to face sister Bryony

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Saracens head coach Alex Austerberry and Poppy Cleall (Picture: RFU)
Saracens head coach Alex Austerberry and Poppy Cleall (Picture: RFU)

From Rachel Steinberg at the Twickenham Stoop

They might share DNA, but for the first time in five years there’s something Poppy Cleall won’t be sharing with twin sister Bryony—a rugby pitch.

Bryony’s decision to leave Saracens for Wasps was one of the biggest stories of the Allianz Premier 15s off-season, lining up a juicy underplot when the sides face each other for their campaign opener on Saturday.

Saracens staple Poppy, meanwhile, completely understood her family member-turned-opponent’s decision, reminding everyone the siblings’ needs aren’t one-size-fits-Cleall.

“Bryony spoke to me and was always open and honest about this season and her intentions for what she wanted to do,” said Poppy.

“I fully support whatever she feels is best for her, because we’re two different people, two different careers, position-wise as well we need different advice, so I think she’s gone to Wasps because I think she feels like that’s the best place for her to thrive and learn a lot and hopefully will be better come the World Cup next year.”

The sisters had played together at Saracens since Bryony joined the squad in 2016. Poppy, for her part, is relishing the opportunity to start a Cleall derby in the top-flight.

“You couldn’t think of a better game to start than against my sister,” she said with a laugh.

“We’ll see who’s one-nil after this weekend.

“I’m not sure if I’ll see her much on the pitch because she was a back row when we played before and now she’s a prop, so I’m not sure how much I’ll have to do with her, but it will be an interesting one.

“The whole team know her inside-out so they’ll know what to do.”

For the record, though, Poppy was more than happy to recall the last time the sisters faced off against each other—over half a decade ago in a Women’s Premiership semi-final.

“You’ll be pleased to know that I won,” she joked. “So that’s why I’m still talking about it.”

The Allianz Premier 15s will once again be played over 18 rounds, culminating with play-offs (21 May 2022) and a title final (4 June 2022, venue TBC).  

With no promotion or relegation, there are no changes to the 10 teams within England’s top flight of women’s domestic rugby, operating in a league format with home and away fixtures.

Cleall was on blistering form last season, earning Player of the Match honours in England’s opening Six Nations match before 62 per cent of voters named her Player of the Championship after the Red Roses lifted the trophy.

But it’s the sting of losing in last year’s highly-charged, down-to-the-wire Allianz Premier 15s final to Harlequins that really stood out for the 29-year-old. It’s a missing piece she’s eager to reclaim this season.

She said: “Everyone always said ‘you had a really good year, you had an amazing year, but for me it was the one that got away.

“We didn’t manage to secure that. I think that makes us hungry as a group. We’re a very competitive group, always demanding, and I think this year we’re going to be 100 per cent after that trophy.

“Nothing’s going to be holding us back, and our intention is to get it back. I think winning that this year would top last year.”

The Allianz Premier 15s is the top-flight women’s domestic rugby union competition in England. For all the latest news from the Allianz Premier 15s, you can follow @Premier15s on Twitter and Instagram. You can also watch live action on Premier15s.com throughout the 2021/22 campaign.

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