Furious rugby fans fear Lichfield’s top female players will flee to clubs still able to offer them elite competition.
Whittington-based Lichfield Rugby Club has been playing top-flight women’s rugby for 15 years and is on track to win both this year’s Premiership and Championship titles.
But, astonishingly, the Rugby Football Union (RFU) kicked out their application to join its new ten-team ‘Women’s Super Rugby’ (WSR) league.
The new division is being sold as a way to raise standards in the game – it is understood that people not in WSR sides will be barred from playing for their country.
Lichfield has produced more than 30 women’s internationals, including England World Cup final try scorer Emily Scarratt.
Yet they are now to be locked out of elite competition for three seasons.
An RFU spokeswoman said not all the clubs wanting to join WSR met their “criteria”, or, “minimum standards”.
She said they had judged sides on their coaching, training, sports science, medical support, playing environment, player pools and, “financial means”.
Decision a disgrace
One life-long Lichfield fan, said the RFU decision was, “a disgrace”.
He said the club had always trained women and girls to the elite level, so strengthening the international player pool – they had enhanced standards across the sport.
“Lichfield was way ahead of other clubs on the pitch and in their progressive attitude to the women’s game,” he added.
RFU under pressure
Pressure is now building on the RFU to reverse its Lichfield exclusion.
Top British side Leicester Tigers are among those demanding the Staffordshire club be included in WSR.
Mark Francis, chair of the Women’s Premiership Group, reportedly said there was, “total dismay”, at the RFU’s, “incomprehensible”, decision.
He felt the super-league would be weakened by Lichfield’s exclusion.
In a statement, Lichfield RUFC said it was, “extremely disappointed” by the RFU decision and did, “not accept the scant reasons”, given for it application to join WSR being rejected.
The club insisted it did meet the entry standards and in fact was one of the, “very few clubs”, that could.
The statement also hints at cash influencing the RFU decision. It says the club presented a sensible budget – “we did not propose to spend money we could not deliver.”
Question of cash
Supporters alleged that the RFU had demanded £150,000-a-season off Lichfield.
But club chairman Paul Massey said, that was not so, adding, “ a specific value was not specified, or requested, from any of the clubs (applying to join WSR), as far as we know”.