May 05, 2017
Saracens Women head to France for Top 8 challenge
Saracens Women head across the English Channel this weekend as they take on Top 8 side Stade Rennais in an exhibition match on Saturday, 20:00 kick off (19:00 BST).
With the Premiership season now drawn to a close, this will be the final fifteens outing for Rob Cain’s side before attention shifts to the sevens season along with preparations for the new Super Rugby competition. This weekend’s exhibition match will be the highlight of the DK Sevens Tournoi Feminin International, an event which will see over 300 women and girl’s competing across 20 teams at U15, U18 and senior level from France, UK and the Netherlands. With rugby thriving in France, the Premiership and Top 8 clash should be a fantastic display with Saracens Women and Stade Rennais looking to profile the highest level of the domestic games across the two countries.
Both squads will have a point to prove after their title ambitions didn’t go exactly to script as they finished their campaigns empty handed, bowing out in the semi final stages. “We have had a turbulent season, probably the toughest since I started playing for Saracens in 2002,” said Sarries captain Sonia Green. “The standard of the English Premiership is increasing each year and the stakes are now higher than ever with the new Women’s Super Rugby competition commencing next season and the World Cup this summer. We lost a number of experienced players through retirement and have had players unavailable to train and play due to their additional international commitments. This pressure has allowed younger players the opportunity to experience the very best level of rugby and develop, enabling us to finish top four in the Premiership which is an achievement I am very proud of.”
“This weekend is an important part of our season that we feel privileged to be invited to compete here. Playing in France has always given me some of the best memories in my playing career and I feel excited for my younger team mates that they get an opportunity to experience playing in a country where the standard of rugby is high and the thirst for watching women’s rugby is ever-growing.”
Stade Rennais captain and Italian international, Marta Ferrari reflected on her team’s performance in a season defined by the tightest of margins. “The beginning of the season was quite hard for us but we managed to get into the semi final against Montpellier and lost by only one point. They then went on to win the Top 8.”
Both teams will be without their international players this weekend however there will still be a wealth of talent on show and Rob Cain believes it gives the extended squad a unique opportunity. “At the club we are all about development and giving players an opportunity and this fixture allows us to do just that,” said Cain. “It will be the first time that many of the squad will have played overseas and travelling to France will give them a chance to experience new environments which will only help their long term development. We’ve also got some seasoned Premiership players and ex-internationals who will bring their experience to give the squad a good balance.”
Saracens will need to watch out for Stade Rennais players Valentine Lothoz and Yolaine Yengo who both play in the France 7s Development Team and will be looking to cause the Sarries defence some issues. Green highlights newcomer Jen Hobson as a player to watch on Saturday. “Jen has recently moved up from our Championship team and we are lucky to have her playing this weekend. Hobbs’ tenacity at the breakdown is second to none and she tackles anything that moves. I am very pleased to be playing for the same team and not against her!”
Ferrari is looking forward to taking on Saracens and expects a tight game given the form of both sides this season. “It's a good experience to compare the level between the Premiership and Top 8,” said Ferrari. “We know that this season has been a bit difficult for Saracens too, having had the same number of defeats and wins as us.”
Stade Rennais will recognise a familiar face when they take on the London side as Seraphine Okemba is set to feature against her former club. Okemba has starred for Sarries this season and recently gained her first senior caps for France 7s at the World Series in Japan. “Séraphine used to play for our team two years ago so we are looking forward to see how she plays against us” said Ferrari.
Green hopes the women’s game can expand beyond the domestic leagues and for this fixture to be the first of many European club matches. “As we have seen from the men, it is important for the development of the game and to nurture a healthy rivalry between the French and the English! I hope that following this weekend, both players and spectators will show the Premiership and Top 8 that there is a gap in the market and aspiration for more games to follow.”
Women’s rugby is flourishing in France with the Top 8 league enjoying great profile and enhanced television coverage which Ferrari believes stemmed from a successful summer in 2014. “It’s thanks to the World Cup we hosted in France. Since then the number of rugby players keeps growing every year. This year they have shown a lot of games on TV which a huge step because more people get interested in watching women's rugby and they enjoy it.” Green hopes that the new English Super Rugby competition can replicate this success and bring the game to a wider market, but for now the captain’s focus is on finishing off the fifteens season on a positive note in Dunkerque. “As a spectator at the World Cup final in Paris it reminded just how passionate the French are about rugby. I have played against France many times and have never heard a quiet French spectator – it is going to be noisy and we can’t wait to be a part of it!”
Saracens Women vs Stade Rennais will be lived streamed here – https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x5kl0q7_annonce-match-international-saracens-stade-rennais_sport
Saturday 6th May, 20:00 kick off (19:00 BST)