Four teams could lose their place in the Premier 15s, England’s top women’s rugby union league, next season.
Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, Firwood Waterloo Ladies, Richmond FC and Worcester Warriors Women were the bottom four ranked teams in a Rugby Football Union audit and must re-tender for a place in the competition.
Exeter Chiefs and Sale Sharks have also launched bids to join the league.
Richmond and Worcester have confirmed they will re-tender.
Bristol Bears Women, Gloucester-Hartpury Women, Harlequins Women, Loughborough Lightning, Saracens Women and Wasps FC Ladies were ranked as the top six sides in the current 10-team league, meaning they will remain in the Premier 15s until the end of the 2022-23 season.
An RFU statement said clubs were assessed “based on a combination of their ability to deliver the competition’s minimum operating standards and their on-pitch performance”.
DMP Sharks and Firwood Waterloo, the league’s only current representatives from the north of England, are yet to comment on the news.
All the sides at risk are in the bottom half of the table this season and Worcester are the only team out of the four to be linked with a men’s Premiership club.
“We are fully committed to every aspect of our Women’s Programme,” a Richmond statement read.
“And despite there being an obvious shift from the RFU toward favouring women’s clubs who are aligned to a men’s Premiership side, we are determined to pursue every possible means to ensure Richmond can remain a Tyrrells Premier 15s club.”
Warriors co-owner Jason Wittingham said: “As owners we are committed in our support of the women’s team.
“We will continue to fully support [women’s director of rugby] Jo [Yapp] and her team through the reapplication process and fully expect to be playing in the Premier 15s next season.”
The RFU set up the current 10-team Premier 15s format in time for the start of the 2017-18 season, with each club having a three-year licence.
A selection panel will review and shortlist applications – including those from outside the league – then invite clubs to interview.
The teams who are already in the Premier 15s automatically advance to the interview stage and a total of four teams will be invited to join the league for three years from next season.
After three years, the 10-club structure will then be reviewed again. The Premier 15s is currently on a two-month break for the Women’s Six Nations.
|Current Premier 15s sides|
|Bristol Bears Women||Loughborough Lightning|
|Darlington Mowden Park Sharks||Richmond FC|
|Firwood Waterloo Ladies||Saracens Women|
|Harlequins Women||Wasps FC Ladies|
|Gloucester-Hartpury Women’s RFC||Worcester Warriors Women|
Article courtesy of BBC Sport