Scottish Rugby unveils season structure revamp for women’s domestic game
Scottish Rugby can now confirm a new playing structure for the women’s game which will see changes implemented over the next three seasons, starting in the upcoming 2022/23 season, following consultation with clubs.
The decision to explore and consult on changes to existing playing structures was prompted by the continued growth in women’s teams and player numbers across the country.
The consultation involved 48 clubs, three universities and two referee societies currently delivering to or supporting rugby programmes across the women’s game. These groups were invited to complete a survey and engage in a series of regional workshops. The outcome from the consultation found that 80% of respondents were in favour of change to the women’s competitions.
A number of key changes will be seen from the 2022/23 season, starting with two brand-new non-competitive league programmes designed to support the development of aspiring teams and players across the country.
These programmes have been designed specifically to provide increased access to high-quality game time in localised, safe and managed environments, where results are not attributed to a competition league table for promotion or relegation but rather focussed on player development.
Three ‘Aspiring Leagues’ will deliver playing opportunities for 18 emerging women’s teams on a regional basis and have been created to support their preparations for joining the competitive leagues in future seasons.
A new ‘Regional Evolution Series’ will see local clubs host events supported by Scottish Rugby’s regional teams with the aim of engaging players aged 17 and over in different variations of the game to develop their skills and confidence alongside other women in the game.
These new additions to the playing landscape in Scotland are leading elements in Scottish Rugby’s forthcoming Women & Girls’ strategy and builds more opportunity for young players to progress and improve their skills in tailored environments as growing numbers come into the Scottish game.
As per previous years, two established competitions will continue to operate during the women’s season - the Tennent’s leagues and the Cup.
The Tennent’s leagues will now begin slightly earlier than the previous season, and the season calendar now reflects a segmented approach focussed on player welfare, whilst providing clear space for progression and development into Scottish Rugby’s Pathway programmes in a timeframe which has minimal impact to the domestic game.
Scottish Rugby will kick-off the seasons’ proceedings with a series of regional U20 events designed to facilitate a safe, enjoyable and engaging rugby experience that assists both retention and recruitment for this key age group. The events will be accessible for all players aged between 18-20, regardless of their stage of development and numbers at their home clubs.
The regular Tennent’s league competitions - Premiership, National 1 and three regional leagues - will encompass 40 teams, whilst the Cup portion of the season will offer teams from Aspiring Leagues the opportunity to participate competitively in the competition.
It is anticipated that more than 50 teams could compete in the Cups, and to support this expansion, a fourth level of competition, the National Shield, has been included within the Cup competition programme.
The final changes to the Women’s competitions will see expansion across the Tennent’s Premiership and Regional leagues.
To provide a more competitive Premiership league, which is the highest domestic league for women in Scotland, the decision has been made to expand the competition to seven teams, which means Cartha Queen’s Park 1XV will not be relegated from the division as per the competition rules from the 2021/22 season.
The Tennent’s East/Midlands league will expand to host two conferences (A and B) for the inclusion of new entrants, Dundee Valkyries 2XV, and Kelso, who withdrew from National league last season.
Further changes to the structure of the Tennent’s leagues will be rolled out in the 2023/24 season including further expansion of the Premiership to eight teams.
The increase in teams will, in time, raise the competition level to help to close the gap between the domestic club game and international rugby whilst increasing the player pool exposed to this level of rugby.
The most significant change to the competition in the 2023/24 season will be the realignment of the existing National league programme. Teams below the Premiership will be moved into four regional league structures, of which each has two divisions. The winner from each regional ‘Division 1’ league will then progress to a ‘National Play-off Series’, a focussed and progressive competition structure affording the winner promotion to the Premiership.
It is anticipated that upwards of 60 teams will play across the four regional structures.
This competition format will remain in place for the 2024/25 season, as will the Aspiring Leagues and Evolution Series programmes.
Gavin Scott, Director of Rugby Development said: “The changes being implemented across the next three seasons are really exciting and will create a new beginning for the women’s game, supporting our ever-growing population of players to access game-time, whilst encouraging established clubs and teams to become stronger and more sustainable across all levels.
“Our new non-competitive programmes will be a game-changer in supporting the growth and development of new teams and players, whilst the changes across the competitive programmes will create an increased and enhanced number of localised, accessible game play opportunities across the women’s game.
“The proposal for the changes in the season structure has been shaped by the feedback we received from our clubs and societies, and I’d like to share my thanks to them for engaging with this process, and wish everyone the very best for the 2022/23 season.”
Image: Irvine Women and Paisley Women at a development event from the 2021/22 season (Scottish Rugby/SNS)