IF Harlequins’ last Allianz Premier 15s season was about a group of veterans finally getting their hands on a trophy, this one could be about the young guns who stepped up when it mattered most.
Captain Rachael Burford was injured in the first half of last season’s final, returning to the pitch with a new set of crutches to celebrate her squad’s first title – the third time proving the charm in consecutive clashes with Saracens.
With the skipper out of service the weight of the world seemed to be placed on the shoulders of 20-year-old Izzy Mayhew, who came into the tense contest in place of her leader. She delivered.
The performances of Mayhew and other young guns is what has Burford especially excited about this campaign, which kicks off for Quins on Sunday against Loughborough Lightning.
“Izzy was scared about going on,” Burford said. “But she’d done so well over the season that it was enough for her to be in the team for the final and knowing that she took the pitch and took it completely within her stride, now she can kick on again with her own belief about it.
“I think that’s one thing is having that ability, but then just finding that real belief in yourself.
“I think we’re in a much stronger place than we’ve ever been in terms of our strength of depth.
“What I’m so proud of is the likes of a Lauren Brooks and a Katy Mew and an Izzy Mayhew is that they’ve been the core and club players right from the start.
“It’s taken them two or three years to get to where they are and to be standout players and notable players for us now, and I think that shows the investment that the club are putting into club players, not just the internationals.
“Our pack is just ridiculous.”
Players like Brooks and Mew will have an additional opportunity to shine this season in the form of the newly-introduced Allianz Cup, which has been created to give an opportunity to wider squad players to compete during international windows.
Clubs will be ranked by their 2021/22 league finishing position and drawn in two pools of five, with clubs playing each other once in two home games, two away games, one bye week over five rounds.
Burford admitted trophy celebrations didn’t last long, and despite the title, believes there’s no ceiling in sight for the defending champions.
“We had a really good ending last year,” she said. “But we want to kick on again.
“So I think the excitement around that is very much there.
“Our minds shifted the next morning. We made sure we celebrated well and our achievement, but even before the final we were thinking what we wanted to try to achieve this year.
“That’s the thing about this squad. You have so many competitive and ambitious individuals.
“We took it to a level last year. Winning is part and parcel, isn’t it? It’s an outcome, but I think if we keep raising the bar, keep raising the standard, that’s what’s exciting.”
The Allianz Premier 15s is the top-flight women’s domestic rugby union competition in England. For all the latest news from the Allianz Premier 15s, you can follow @Premier15s on Twitter and Instagram. You can also watch live action on Premier15s.com throughout the 2021/22 campaign.