Murrayfield Wanderers women kicked out of league after breakaway

Scotland's most successful female rugby team, the trailblazing Murrayfield Wanderers, have been removed from the Tennent's Women's Premier League after failing to fulfil any league fixtures this season.

Rachael Cook in action for Murrayfield Wanderers during the 2017 Sarah Beaney Cup final against Hillhead Jordanhill. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS/SRU
Rachael Cook in action for Murrayfield Wanderers during the 2017 Sarah Beaney Cup final against Hillhead Jordanhill. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS/SRU

It follows an acrimonious split which has seen a raft of the women’s section’s senior players leave the club with the hope of setting up a new entity. With the registration to compete in SRU competitions lying with Murrayfield Wanderers, who have been left unable to raise teams for all five league games so far this season, a state of limbo has been in place for the past five weeks.

The breakaway group, who have a Twitter account called “Wanderers Women”, have been training twice a week at Stewart’s Melville and arranged a couple of friendlies but the situation has left many of the country’s top female club rugby players without any competitive rugby all season.

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After passing the threshold of four defaults, the decision was made on Monday to remove Wanderers from the Premier League, leaving it with just seven teams heading towards the split. Murrayfield’s fixtures will, however, remain in place to be played as friendly/development fixtures for the mainly junior players who have chosen to stay put.

A Scottish Rugby spokesman said: “We have notified all women’s Premier clubs that Murrayfield Wanderers have been taken out of the Tennent’s Women’s Premier League for the transitional period following their fourth non fulfilment as per the National Competition Rules.”

That marks the end of two decades in which Murrayfield Wanderers have been pioneers for women’s rugby in Scotland, contributing the most players to the female national team, winning three league championships in the past eight years and becoming 12-time winners of the Scottish Cup, which was renamed in honour of their player Sarah Beaney, who was tragically killed in a car accident in 2005.

The development comes against the backdrop of Murrayfield Wanderers RFC moving to Roseburn Park after having their lease for use of the back pitches at the international stadium terminated by the SRU.

It is understood that the breakaway group of senior players are eyeing the possibility of some kind of link-up with the new Super 6 franchise at Heriot’s, while basing themselves at Stew-Mel’s Inverleith ground, although there has been no formal announcement of any agreement with the Goldenacre club. The way the split has been handled is understood to have caused considerable disappointment from Murrayfield Wanderers, who continue to operate junior girls teams, after leading the way over 20 years ago in building the country’s top female rugby set-up. The SRU’s move to award professional women’s contracts in the past few years and expose international players to a better standard of rugby has seen Wanderers’ top players, such as Scotland skipper Lisa Martin and flying full-back/wing Chloe Rollie, now play their rugby in France with Lille. Former centre Helen Nelson has also moved to Montpellier.

Of the Wanderers Scotland Women coach Shade Munro would be looking to involve in the upcoming three-Test autumn/winter series against Italy, Canada and Spain heading into the Six Nations, back Sula Callander has moved to RHC Cougars, while lock Emma Wassell has been training at the Caledonia academy while studying in Aberdeen.

The women’s domestic game moves to a new structure next year, with Sarah Beaney Cup games followed by summer Sevens tournaments and then an August-December league. The SRU now faces the sensitive task of reintegrating the breakaway “Wanderers” back into the fold while respecting competition rules, regulations and sporting integrity.

It must be hoped that a satisfactory outcome is reached but, whichever way it is viewed, it is a sad situation for Murrayfield Wanderers Ladies, which has been a big part of Scottish rugby’s recent history and a major driving force for the female game in this country.