London Irish Women today reveal an impressive coaching line up and set out their ambitions, as they begin the application process for a place in the Allianz Premier 15’s.
London Irish Women now boast a powerful coaching team, all former International and Industry renowned leaders.The new team of coaches have played international rugby and know what it takes to inspire and develop the next generation of women’s elite rugby players. Former England Rugby 7s captain, Abi Chamberlain has been instrumental to the success of women’s rugby programme at London Irish to date.
She is joined this season by Lydia Kerr (Crossman) (former Black fern, NZ Farah Palmer Cup and Wasps FC), stepping into the Head Coach position alongside Karen Findlay. Lydia, a player who started her career in her native New Zealand, progressed to become a Black Fern and on moving to the UK, became the Women’s Performance Head Coach at Durham University followed by a season in the forwards with Wasps. Karen is a former Scotland international player with 85 caps and has considerable experience in coaching in Women’s Premiership, previously at Richmond and Harlequins.
The decision to add an elite tier of women’s rugby at the Club builds on and supports the vision for the women’s game at London Irish. The ability for London Irish Women to confidently bid for the Premier 15s builds on the successes of the London Irish Amateur Rugby Football Club, where the current Coaching team are working with the Emeralds Championship side this season. And it couldn’t come at a better time. We’ve seen the incredible performances from England’s Lionesses recently and in Rugby Union, participation in the women’s game in England is at an all-time high.
2022 saw record attendances in Allianz Premier15s home games, the most competitive Premier15s season to date, with unprecedented player talent depth and England announced as the hosts of the 2025 World Cup.
London Irish Women’s rugby has seen expediential growth too in the last 7 years, with the Club achieving a Championship 1 side after an incredible unbeaten 2021/22 season securing their promotion.
With the Women’s Rugby Union World Cup just around the corner, the Club recognises the growth of the women’s game worldwide and closer to home in the UK – and the desire to introduce a Premier 15’s side that will provide a dual pathway for elite players to progress on both the domestic and international stages.
The growth of the Club is also attracting international talent including Mexican International player, Jenn Salomon.
The announcement comes as the RFU release the application criteria to allow clubs who have expressed their interest to formally apply to be part of the Premier15s.
London Irish Women are passionate about the role they will play in championing Women in Sport and helping make Rugby a more inclusive sport – ensuring that young girls in the UK are growing up with strong sporting role models.
They are focused on driving participation for women & girls across the South-Central corridor in particular, where they intend to increase opportunities for elite women’s rugby. They have key projects and partner in place to help them deliver this ambition.
This includes the work they are delivering with Hayes & Yeading FC to introduce rugby and increase the opportunity for underrepresented BAME groups to participate.
They are also working with historic Winchester College to introduce an U18s academy base and Centre of Excellence to service the South-Central talent pool in addition to a strong partnership with Bournemouth City Council to service and embed launch DiSE (Diploma in Sporting Excellence) programmes too.
Closer to home, London Irish Women entered into the second year of their Education and Sporting partnership with St Mary’s University, Twickenham with joint aspirations to grow the reach and prominence of their Women’s rugby program in the next 5 years. The objective to work with the university, sharing coaches and talent, to identify and develop players for on-the-field success, alongside their academic studies.
Mary Fyfe, Director of Women’s Rugby said: “London Irish is more than rugby. We’re a Professional and Amateur Club, working to create a “no barriers “opportunity for women and girls to play rugby, at every level. We are proud to be working collaboratively together and with key partners for the good of women’s rugby and women’s sport more broadly. We’ve taken our time to grow our pathways and potential to apply to add the next tier of women’s rugby opportunity to the club. We’ve spent the last 7 years steadily growing our community game to achieve a Championship 1 place and feel the next obvious and progressive step for the club is to introduce a Premier 15s tier.
“We are very encouraged by the RFU’s Premier 3.0 vision for Women’s rugby and look forward to the enhancements and improvements this will bring for the sport. With global business getting on board in Women’s sport, now really is the time to be investing in Women’s Rugby.”
Abi Chamberlain, Former England Rugby 7’s captain said: ““London Irish is an environment that allows the players, coaches, and support team to thrive. We're club with big dreams, talent, and the passion to create a positive pathway for women playing the sport we love. The chance to evolve that opportunity into the Premier 15s competition is a natural and exciting next step for us. I can't wait for the season ahead!”
Lydia Kerr (Crossman), former New Zealand player said: “I’m stoked to be back in a coaching environment and looking forward to guiding London Irish through the season and beyond. One of my drivers is providing pathways for young female athletes to push the limits of their ability and we have a great opportunity through the season to do that, alongside a potential spot in the Premier 15s competition next season.”
Tony O Driscoll Chairman Hayes and Yeading FC said: “We have been working alongside London Irish Women for the last 18 months and now look forward to hosting topflight women’s rugby at our SkyEx Community Stadium from 2023 onwards. Combined we have some very exciting plans to complete the impressive stadium and then grow the spectator capacity and use of the facilities over the next 5 -10 years. It’s an exciting time for women’s sport, and in particular football and rugby, and I can think of no better place for Hayes and Yeading FC to be than part this new journey alongside London Irish Women and the rest of the Exile Nation.”
Cllr. Drew Mellor, Leader of BCP Council said: “We are delighted to be working with London Irish and London Irish Women. Over this last 16 months we have been working alongside them as we continue towards delivering a better tomorrow for all in BCP. The world is changing, and perhaps no more so than in women’s and girls’ sport and so a partnership with such a renowned rugby organisation could not be better and another clear demonstration that we are investing in our communities, and in particular women & girls to help them achieve their ambitions. It also furthers our agenda of creating a world leading coastal region around Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole and making it one of the best coastal places in which to live, work, invest and play. It’s great to know that London Irish Women recognise this and are prepared to stand shoulder to shoulder with us, and provide support to schools and rugby clubs in the region as we continue to embed social and financial value across Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole.”
Andrew Reid-Smith, Head of Department - Sport St Mary's said ““St Mary’s are working closely with London Irish to support the development of women’s rugby, and to deliver a coordinated rugby and academic pathway that is helping talented players to flourish and fulfil their dual-career ambitions. The University has a well-established reputation for the quality of our sport, and particularly our rugby. St Mary’s was involved as a Team Base for the Rugby World Cup and women’s rugby is a key focus sport for us. We are delighted to be partnering with London Irish as part of this exciting initiative that is seeing our students realise their full potential through combined playing, education and placement opportunities, alongside supporting coach education and development.”
London Irish Amateur Rugby Football Club continues to support the development of Women and Girls rugby, from 5yrs - Adult, welcoming new players all the time.
London Irish Women will prepare their bid to join the Allianz Premier 15’s for the next intake of teams, due in 2023.