HEATHER KERR is hoping the new Premier 15s competition that launches this weekend will help maintain the momentum generated by England’s run to last month’s Rugby World Cup final.

The RFU have overseen a radical shake-up of the women’s game, with the new Premier 15s format bringing together the ten leading sides in the country. Darlington Mowden Park Sharks join the likes of Harlequins, Saracens and Wasps in the elite competition, and play their opening game of the season tomorrow afternoon when they host Gloucester-Hartpury at The Northern Echo Arena.

Women’s rugby has enjoyed a successful summer, with England having made it to the Rugby World Cup final before going down 41-32 in a thrilling encounter with New Zealand.

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That showcase helped attract a host of new converts to the women’s game, and with Mowden scheduling a number of this season’s Sharks matches as part of a double-header with the men’s team, Kerr is hoping the sport continues to grow.

“The World Cup was an amazing thing to be part of, and it did a lot to help grow our sport,” said Sharks front rower Kerr, who was part of the England squad that did so well in Ireland. “In the past, people involved in rugby would have known the World Cup was on, but since coming home from this year’s tournament, I’ve been really surprised at how many have come up and wanted to talk about watching the games.

“That’s great, but it’s hard to sustain interest in a sport when you don’t have a domestic competition that people can get involved in all year round. Hopefully, that’s where this will be a real help.

“There’s always been a good standard of domestic rugby in this country, but this is all about trying to raise the profile of the game and generating more interest. It’s also about showing young girls that women’s rugby is a growing sport and something they should try.”

Mowden fought off competition from Newcastle Falcons to earn the right to field a team in the Premier 15s, and the RFU’s decision to hand the Sharks a place in the tournament is testament to the club’s work in developing women’s rugby over the best part of a decade.

Kerr hadn’t even played the game before 2012, but after she was persuaded to try rugby during her studies at Durham University, she was quickly offered an opportunity to train with the Sharks squad.

Less than three years later, she was making her England debut, and her progress is another feather in the cap for a club that have also helped develop seasoned internationals such as Katy McLean and Tamara Taylor.

“The Sharks have been great for me,” said Kerr. “I was a hockey player when I started Uni, but I thought I’d give rugby a go and loved it. Once I’d decided it was for me, the Sharks were the team to join because they’ve always been the focus for women’s rugby in this part of the world.

“It’ll be interesting to see how we go in the new competition because there are some familiar faces in there, but there are also some new teams too. We’ve got some new players in our squad, and training in the last few weeks has been brilliant. I think there’s a real focus and determination to prove we belong here and can compete with anyone.”

While McLean, Taylor and Latoya Mason have been given an extended post-World Cup break to recharge their batteries, Kerr will be involved in tomorrow’s season-opener.

She wasn’t involved in the World Cup final, but started England’s opening group game against Spain and is determined to enjoy more international success in the future.

“The World Cup was an incredible experience,” she said. “I’d only ever really played loose-head prop, but all of a sudden there I was, making my World Cup debut playing at hooker. That was something pretty special.

“I’d only been playing for a couple of years when I called up into the England set-up, so I guess they must have seen some potential in me. I’ve only managed to get ten caps in the last two years, but then I have had Rochelle Clark in front of me. Hopefully, if I do well for the Sharks in the new competition, I’ll get more chances to play with England.”

* Darlington Mowden Park Sharks’ game with Gloucester-Hartpury kicks off at 4pm tomorrow afternoon, with the men’s team’s National One game against Cambridge starting at 2pm. Tickets for the double-header are £10 adults and £8 for concessions, with children going free.