Leicester Mercury

Lightning face Saracens in Premier 15s semi-final with fans able to attend clash

- Leicesterm­ercury.co.uk/sport

UP to 3,276 fans will be allowed to watch the Premier 15s final on Sunday, May 30 at Gloucester’s Kingsholm stadium.

Saracens host Loughborou­gh Lightning - whose stars include England internatio­nals Emily Scarratt, below, Sarah Hunter, Helena Rowland and Lark Davies – and Harlequins are at home to Wasps in the semi-finals on Saturday, May 22.

Nicky Ponsford, the Rugby Football Union’s (RFU) head of women’s performanc­e, said the return of fans was “brilliant” for the English women’s top flight after a “difficult season”.

The semi-finals and final will be broadcast by BT Sport.

Saracens and Harlequins have semi-final home advantage after finishing as the top two sides at the end of the regular season, and fans will also be able to attend those fixtures.

It will be the second time a men’s Premiershi­p ground has hosted the final, which was played at Northampto­n’s Franklin’s Gardens in 2019.

The teams have been playing under adapted laws to minimise contact during the pandemic after the 2019-20 season had to be cancelled.

Kingsholm had been selected to host the 2020 final and Gloucester’s chief executive Lance Bradley expressed his delight at welcoming back fans for the 2021 showpiece instead.

“We know that supporters are eager to return to live sport, and this final is the perfect opportunit­y to join us at Kingsholm and celebrate live top-flight rugby returning to our stadium,” Bradley said.

Saracens have won both the previous two titles, beating Harlequins in the final both times.

Ponsford said:

“We’ve seen some outstandin­g games across the league throughout the 2020/21 season to date with the outcome not known until the final moments of the game and we expect these knockout games to be no different.

“It’s been a difficult season for everyone so to get to this point is a testament to the outstandin­g work of the clubs and players and we are really looking forward to these games. “We’re really pleased to be holding the final at Kingsholm after Gloucester Rugby secured the right to host in 2020 but didn’t get the chance due to the early ending of the season.

“It’s great to see BT Sport are taking the semi-finals and final. “Broadcasti­ng on BT Sport and also streaming on Premier15s.com widens the potential audience.

“Visibility is so important and we’re pleased BT Sport will showcase three marquee fixtures.”

Meanwhile, London Irish have become the latest Premiershi­p club to announce their intention to start a women’s team to play in the Premier 15s.

They intend to apply for a franchise in the next intake of teams in 2023.

England’s 2014 World Cup-winning assistant coach Graham Smith has been named women’s head of performanc­e.

He said: “The club has a shared passion, purpose and vision to take women’s rugby at London Irish to the next level.”

Every three years the Rugby Football Union opens a bidding process for clubs to have a team in the league, meaning there is no promotion or relegation.

In 2020, Exeter Chiefs Women and Sale Women joined the league at the expense of Richmond and Firwood Waterloo Ladies.

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