A protest campaign is underway following a shock decision to exclude Lichfield Ladies from the new national Women’s Rugby Super League.
A senior rugby figure says the decision is “incomprehensible” and has been met with “total dismay”.
The club is said to have failed to meet the criteria for the new league, according to the Rugby Football Union.
The Staffordshire outfit were the biggest names to miss out after the union named the ten-team list for its new elite competition for next season.
Despite having several England internationals on their books and challenging for Premiership honours this year, the Cooke Fields club were overlooked by the RFU.
In a statement, the RFU explained the reasons behind Lichfield’s omission.
“Candidates for the new Women’s Super Rugby competition were required to demonstrate their suitability against set criteria and minimum standards,” said an RFU spokesman. “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.”
Lichfield have received support from Mark Francis, the chairman of the current Women’s Premiership, who has called for the RFU to reconsider.
“Having spoken to our Premiership clubs, the collective view is one both of real excitement about the expanded Super League for next season and a total dismay that Lichfield will not be part of this elite competition,” he said.
“The decision to lock out Lichfield for the next three seasons is incomprehensible to us.
“We genuinely fear that the competition will be weakened by the loss of a team which could in fact win the Premiership this season.
“They have been excellent ambassadors for our sport, great at developing young players like Emily Scarratt.
“It is hard to understand how their bid could not have made the grade. We would welcome the RFU reconsidering this decision.”
An online petition has been set up, with more than 1,500 people signing in the first 24 hours.
In addition to support from the Premiership and fans, the club has received support from Aviva Premiership club Leicester Tigers as well as a number of players, past and present, on social media.
— Leicester Tigers (@LeicesterTigers) March 2, 2017
— Rachel (@rach_malcolm) February 28, 2017