The captain of France moving to join Richmond Ladies could be viewed as a watershed moment in women’s rugby union in England.
Hooker Gaelle Mignot’s arrival confirmed that the newly-formed Premier 15s’ ambition is to become the best top-flight women’s rugby union competition in the world.
With international women’s rugby in France regularly attracting audience figures in the millions, Richmond are having to host the French press at a training session this month as they strive to find out why their 30-year-old poster girl has moved across the channel.
Mignot’s signature was secured through a relationship between Richmond and Montpellier, and head coach David Mobbs-Smith thinks the new league is ground-breaking.
“The new Tyrrells Premier 15s is a whole new ball game in women’s rugby and a very attractive and challenging environment that the best players in the world including England’s Red Roses want to be involved in,” he said.
Upon joining the nine-time English Champions the French captain said: “I am thrilled to join a club with such a rich history as Richmond. I am equally proud to be participating in the new era of women’s rugby.”
Gaelle Mignot factfileAge: 30Caps: 69Position: HookerHonours: Led France to Women’s Six Nations Grand Slam 2014, five French titles with Montpellier
Mobbs-Smith cannot claim all the credit for the 69-times capped hooker’s arrival, with his assistant coach Alain van West, a fluent French speaker, heavily involved in the negotiation.
He believes the new 10-team amateur league has come at a good time for the sport: “The new league is outstanding.
“It’s well supported by the RFU and the new sponsors. There is a tidal wave of interest in women’s sport in general and hopefully rugby grabs this opportunity.
“All the players in the league, very similar to Richmond, are now on professional strength and conditioning programmes, supported by medical and professional coaching.”
The RFU’s decision to for England’s women earlier this year caused upset as
The national governing body promised it would be re-investing £2.4m to revamp top-flight domestic women’s rugby in England and with the new league it hopes to deliver.
However, its creation has not been without its critics, with former women’s powerhouse in the new competition.
The new movement of players also appears to be benefitting London’s clubs to the detriment of others, including former Premiership champions Worcester, who have so far suffered heavy losses as big names, including England’s most capped player Rochelle Clark, move away.
Leading Premier 15s signingsWasps: Coach Giselle Mather proved to be the savviest recruiter, securing the signatures of England internationals Rochelle Clark (Worcester), Danielle Waterman (Bristol), Harriet Millar-Mills (Lichfield), Amy Cockayne (Lichfield) and Justine Lucas (Lichfield).Richmond Ladies: David Mobbs-Smith persuading France captain Gaelle Mignot to move across the Channel was the signing of the league.Saracens: The north London outfit secured the services of England flanker Marlie Packer from Bristol.
High-profile player movement is a relatively new arena for women’s rugby. Whilst in the past the English league has often provided a home to travelling Canadians and Kiwis, it was often due to circumstance than the standard of the league.
It was no coincidence that the whole Harlequins Ladies coaching staff were frequent visitors to last summer’s Women’s Rugby World Cup, in Ireland, as they scouted for untapped international talent.
The RFU’s new chief executive Steve Brown spoke of an “explosion of interest and participation” in women’s rugby as he gave his first press conference in September. He also expressed hopes that England will “lead the way here in the game globally”.
After England finished second to New Zealand at the World Cup, the strategy of building strength in the game below international level is already beginning to attract the world’s best.
With no transfer window, more foreign imports could continue to arrive in the Premier 15s and once again the pressure will be on other unions across the world to follow England’s lead to avoid a talent drain.