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How Trailfinders Women have impressed in their inaugural Premiership Women’s Rugby season

If there was one word to describe Trailfinders Women’s inaugural season in Premiership Women’s Rugby (PWR) it would be ambitious.

Trailfinders Women huddle following their match against Exeter Chiefs at Trailfinders Sports Ground
Trailfinders Women huddle following their match against Exeter Chiefs at Trailfinders Sports Ground. Source: Ricky Westaby

Headed by 1994 Women’s Rugby World Cup winner Giselle Mather as their Director of Rugby, the club has grown from simply an idea just a year ago, to a strong PWR side boasting a number of world-class internationals. 

With only a trip to Harlequins remaining this season, they could yet leapfrog their London rivals for sixth place.

While Ealing Trailfinders men are stuck in Championship purgatory for another season, the women’s side have been able to create a brand-new club environment.

As one of the first names to sign up to the Trailfinders project, 2023 World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year nominee Abby Dow has enjoyed this opportunity.

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She said: “It’s discovering the culture you actually want, not changing the culture to suit you.

“We have no benchmarking. Not only do our opposition not know where we stand, we’ve had to figure it out ourselves. 

“Finding our way in the league this year has been an inspiring journey for each player, as it’s forced us to develop in ways that we wouldn’t have developed if we were not such a new side.”

It has been a long and tiring season, but for Mather every day has been an opportunity to learn something new.

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Mather said: “When you go back to December 2022 when we were told that we had won the bid to get a side into the PWR we didn’t have a senior athlete.

“We have got a Trailfinders identity, which in season one is good. If you think 44 weeks ago this did not exist, the girls did not know each other. 

“It has been an awesome challenge and it is fabulous to see where we are at, but there is so much more to come from us.”

A pre-season tour to the Welsh countryside helped to bring the new squad together, both as rugby players and as people.

Dow said: “I might be better at playing rugby than someone, but they might be better at going on a hike or jumping ten metres off a cliff. 

“It does not matter who you are as a rugby player, it matters who you are as a human. 

“If that’s the first time you meet someone, when you go and play rugby with them it is a completely different experience.”

Mather’s vision for the squad was clear from the off, selecting athletes to embrace the challenge.

Capped in this year’s Six Nations for Ireland, Shannon Ikahihifo packed her bags, leaving her native New Zealand to join the new side.

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Ikahihifo said: “I ended up having a call with Giselle and she was telling me about her vision for the team and mentioned that we will be a new team so don’t expect to be winning the PWR in the first year. 

“She wanted us to play some exciting rugby. It sounded like she was not just recruiting rugby players for good performance, but some good people.”

As a combined club, Trailfinders Women have embraced the influence of their established male counterparts, with the sides standing as a guard of honour for each other during their double-header fixtures last weekend.

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Mather said: “We do not have any restriction on the facilities we use, everybody uses everything. We have had some of the lads work with some of the girls throughout the season. We are Ealing together.

“We have got Steven Shingler [men’s captain] joining us as a coach, so that adds to the expertise across the coaching team. 

“Unfortunately, he tore his calf, so he has come across to us a little bit earlier. The girls are loving his energy and enthusiasm.”

Despite this, the side have been keen to grow their own fanbase through their playing style.

Dow said: “A lot of people signed up to play a particular brand of rugby. 

“As much as we can take a fanbase from the men or from what came from Wasps, it is brilliant that we are making our own that want to watch us play rugby. It is growing each week.”

With the foundations now firmly in place, Trailfinders have their sights set on a play-off finish in the coming seasons.

Named in England’s squad for the Six Nations, Vicky Laflin has grown into a key player following her move after Worcester Warriors’ collapse.

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Laflin said: “The success we have had already has been massive as a new team coming into a high-level league. 

“The difference between the leagues is still quite large in the women’s game. 

“To come into the Premiership and have the impact we’ve had, be competitive, and challenge those top four teams has been the most important thing. 

“We can push on those top four teams over the next couple of seasons.”

With home and away league wins over Sale Sharks and fellow newcomers Leicester Tigers, and Allianz Cup wins over Leicester and Harlequins, perhaps the biggest measure of success this season has been Trailfinders’ international presence.

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A first ever Canadian Pacific Four win for Tyson Beukeboom and Julia Schell, Ikahihifo’s Ireland debut, as well as Kate Zackary and Abby Dow’s continued key presence for the United States and England respectively, the club is attracting world-class talent.

Adding to this, Ealing’s links with Brunel University and local colleges has seen the club represented at age grade level for England, quickly making West London a hotbed for future rugby potential.


  • Henry Ollis-Brown

    Henry is a sports journalist with a passion for rugby and motorsports. He is a keen supporter of Harlequins and England rugby. He can normally be found researching an obscure fact to put into an article.