THURROCK’S championship winning ladies rugby team are appealing a decision by the Rugby Football Union to be cut out of the new heavily funded Super League competition.
The RFU is reforming the current structure of women’s rugby and investing millions of pounds in a 10-team Super League from September 2017.
Thurrock T-Birds have won the Championship 1 South in three of the last four seasons, yet despite this impressive record, Thurrock’s application for entry into the Super League was turned down – a decision T-Birds manager Chris Emerson has described as “inexplicable.”
“We should be there because we believe it should be a meritocracy,” Chris said. “We have consistently been within the top 10 teams in the country for a number of years and have produced several England players.”
Seven of the eight clubs in the Premiership will make up the Super League, with only Lichfield missing out. The other three places are taken up by Championship 1 North champions Firwood Waterloo Ladies, Loughborough Students and Gloucester Hartpury Women, who were only formed less than three years ago.
Chris said Lichfield were launching a separate appeal for inclusion, with both clubs supporting each other by asking for the league to be expanded to 12 teams. Fourteen clubs initially applied for a place, but it is not known who the other two clubs were.
He added: “We have very good facilities here. The RFU expressed concerns over the structure of our organisation because we are a private members club and we own our own clubhouse, but we’ve got 90 years of history and been very successful in that time.”
The RFU reportedly prefer clubs to be incorporated, and Chris added that the club expected to have achieved charitable incorporation status within the next six months.
Explaining the decision to exclude Thurrock, an RFU spokesperson said: “Candidates for the new Women’s Super Rugby competition were required to demonstrate their suitability against set criteria and minimum standards. The focus of these included coaching and training, sports science and medical support, training and playing environment, player pools, and financial means.
“Unfortunately not all the clubs interviewed met the required criteria. The RFU is committed to working closely with any teams unsuccessful in their initial application, helping support future ambitions to compete in the new competition.”
England players Kaye Wilson, Heather Fisher, Rachel Burford and most recently Emily Scott have played for Thurrock T-Birds, but Chris says they were all pressured into leaving by England coaches who told them they would not be selected if not playing at the highest club level.
With no relegation from the Super League for two seasons and no word from the RFU on which league they will be playing in next season, Chris says being excluded would be a huge blow for the T-Birds.
He said: “I fear that the gap between the chosen clubs and the rest will become enormous. These clubs will be getting around £70,000 a year and if that money is spent wisely the gap could become unbridgeable.”