Premier 15s semi-final: Harlequins v Wasps – Muir and Mather on the evolution of the sport

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Maud Muir (left) was called up to England’s training squad for the first time in the 2021 Women’s Six Nations
Location: Twickenham Stoop Dated: Saturday May 22 Start: 12:30 p.m. BST

At 19, Wasps prop Maud Muir envisions a possible future as a full-time professional rugby player in England.

At the same age, her rugby manager Giselle Mather also had international ambitions, but being paid for them was far from her mind.

Instead, after Mather won the World Cup with England in 1994, she wondered how to pay the hotel bill for her stay during the tournament.

As the Wasps prepare to take on the Harlequins in a Premier 15s semi-final set in front of fans at Twickenham Stoop – home of the Harlequins of the Premiership men’s team – the different stories of Mather and Muir show just how the match has evolved.

Saturday’s game – which will be televised by BT Sport – is a sign of progress, but the job is not yet finished and the tight-headed young pillar wants more.

Muir first joined Six Nations training camp in England in April, experiencing the lifestyle of the 28 red roses who secured full-time contracts at the start of the season.

The England XV team have been professional since 2019, making rugby a viable career option for a player who Mather says has a “very bright” future in the game.

Muir’s experience in the Six Nations was somewhat different from her career at Wasps, where she had to claim sponsorship on Twitter in order to pay for her subs this season.

“The structure [of the England camp] is so different from wasps, ”says Muir.

“Everyone works in the Premiership, or most people are. In England everyone is under contract or semi-contracted.

“You have a full day and you can relax in the evening.”

“ It’s the evolution of a sport ” – Mather

Muir says it is “crazy enough” that she would have to “pay to play” if she failed to secure sponsorship.

But she and Mather agree on this point: women’s rugby is going in the right direction.

Mather started rugby at 19 in college – because before that she “didn’t know girls could play” – while Muir has been honing her skills since she was five.

The rugby manager said her goal is to be able to pay all of her players to take a day or two off a week to train, with the ultimate ambition being professional full-time Premier 15 teams.

She’s witnessed how far the sport has come over the past decades, but Mather won’t be getting ahead of herself.

“It’s the evolution of a sport,” she explains.

“It doesn’t happen overnight where everyone gets what they want. If you rush, it won’t be sustainable.

“Then the athletes will quit their current jobs, start finding rugby player jobs and two years later there will be no funding.”

“ Young girls now believe they can do it ”

Mather was a Wasps player in the 1990s and returned as head coach from 2002 to 2004 before taking on the role of director of rugby in 2016.

A year later, England’s Rugby Football Union invested millions to establish the Premier League 15s and it is now in its fourth season, although the third has not been completed due to the coronavirus disruption.

In her time with Wasps, Mather saw the team go from training on the tennis courts to the first team at Twyford Avenue, their current home ground, and she is “immensely proud” to have been a part of that journey.

“A young girl looking at it now may believe she can do it and there is a career path for her,” she adds.

“We didn’t end up by any stretch of the imagination. Over the past four years with the Tyrrells, now Allianz, Premier 15s, you can see the tremendous progress.

“If the next four years are like those four years, the girls who play the game will be in a great place.”

“ The competition has been crazy this season ”

The immediate goal for Mather and Muir is to help the Wasps reach a very first Premier 15s final.

To do so, they must beat the Harlequins, who in February reversed a 19-5 deficit to win 20-19 and maintain their unbeaten Premier 15 record against the Wasps.

Mather’s team have reached the semi-finals every season and she says it’s the “best chance” they have “ever had” to take it one step further, Muir adding that there is “a certain buzz “around the team.

So far, the two Premier 15s finals have featured Quins and now two-time champions Saracens, who face Loughborough in Saturday’s other semi-final.

But it doesn’t look like the roster for this May 30 game is in advance and Mather expects both games to be as competitive and exciting as the rest of the season.

“These players are getting better and better, not just in my team, but throughout the league,” she said.

“This year’s games – while I’m supposed to be a coach, I have sometimes been very entertained as a fan because of the quality of the games. The level of competition has been insane.

“The semi-finals and the final will be a great show for the fans to watch or watch.”

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