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Saracens Women | The Match that started it all

09.03.24
In association with
City Index City Index
Womenfirstteamsheetarticle

23rd September 1989. The date that Saracens Women played their first ever match.

Whilst the men’s side were looking forward to their first season back in the top-flight of English rugby, the women’s side were preparing for their first ever game.

The story of how the women’s side was first set-up and the inspirational women who helped push for the creation of the side have been etched into history, but what of the other women who made up the first ever squad?

Their opponents that afternoon were a Northern Select XV, that included the likes of the legendary Gill Burns in their ranks.

The Saracens side had a fair few iconic names in it too though, with Liza Burgess captaining the first ever team from number 8.

Newport pair Mari Brown and Pip Atkinson both played for the side, whilst Claire Willietts of Wasps started on the left wing.

That Saracens side though was packed with international talent. 10 of the squad of 21 were internationals, including half-back pair and founding members Emma Mitchell (England) and Amanda Bennett (Wales.)

Mitchell’s twin sister Jane (a fellow England international,) lined up at fullback for the side.

The day itself saw the women’s fixture played as a precursor to the men’s fixture against Orrel at Bramley Road and they more than put on a show, with a 22-0 victory to kickstart the women’s game at Saracens.

Founding member Emma Mitchell explained that the point of the fixture was to showcase what a women’s side would bring to the club and to entice the Saracens fanbase to get behind the team.

“We agreed that it would be good to set up an exhibition match to show what women’s rugby was about. The club was incredibly accommodating. This was the season when Floyd Steadman was captaining the men’s team, and we played the match at what was a fairly packed Bramley Road. We had to go and change in the old Cricket Pavilions as the men were in the changing rooms, but that didn’t matter. It was a good game and we managed to get a lot of great players along. We didn’t have a full 15 at the time, but it was a very good side. The point of the match was to try and win over the fans. We wanted to let them know that we were there and that our season was starting.”

The wins kept on coming for the side, as they began their inaugural campaign in stunning fashion, with six straight victories, scoring 279 points in the process.

It was a season filled with success for the side and Mitchell highlighted that the side was also able to attract novice rugby players who had been playing other sports.

“We were put into the second division straight away and won promotion in the first season. We reached the cup semi-finals as well, but we were able to establish ourselves quite quickly. Quite a few of us had played together before, but there were others who were completely new and came from other sports.”

Whilst success continued in the league, the side quickly made their mark in the cup too, as they travelled to Wales for in the third round.

“We had a cup game against Cardigan. We went there and back from Bramley Road. The pitch probably wasn’t playable, but we played on it anyway. The whole town turned out to watch it and I can’t repeat some of the things we heard from the touchline! We won 4-0 after a quick tap from Sam Robson. It was a bit of an adventure, but we had a bus to travel over in. It was all in one day which wouldn’t happen now, but for us it was a great day.”

A thumping victory over Sale in the quarter finals saw the side progress to the final four, where they agonisingly lost to Richmond by a solitary point. Despite that disappointment in the cup, the side secured promotion to the first division for the 1990/91 season.

Mitchell reflected on that first season as a time she remembered fondly, explaining that key support from within the club enabled the side to continue to progress.

“It was brilliant. We were playing with our best friends and with some of the best players in the country. A lot of us moved across into the area to play. The lady who pretty much ran the club behind the scenes was a German lady called Chris. She pretty much did everything and we very quickly realised that we needed to win her over, but she loved us. She realised that we were working full-time and training but would come on the Sunday to support and cook the food. She wouldn’t let a bad word be said about the women’s team and trust me; you didn’t want to cross her! It was great fun and we played great rugby.”

Success has duly followed for the women’s team in the 34 years since that inaugural match, but it is on the shoulders of those giants that the foundations have been firmly built.

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20.04.24
In association with
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In association with
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