Natasha Hunt had barely hopped off the plane from Tokyo when her focus turned to the Allianz Premier 15s. 

The Gloucester-Hartpury star was part of the Team GB Sevens squad who narrowly missed out on the Olympic podium, losing 21-12 to Fiji in the bronze medal match.  

But Japan is now firmly in the rear-view mirror for Hunt, whose squad is set for their season opener at home on Saturday against DMP Durham Sharks.  

“My mind shifted as soon as I got back with the girls,” Hunt, who is commonly known as ‘Mo’, says with a laugh. “There were so many messages of support when I was out there, a lot of them are really close friends, I really enjoyed their company so it’s an easy switch to be honest. 

“I was really looking forward to getting back in the mix with the girls, getting back in with the squad and joining back up with them, so as soon as I was back it was like it hadn’t changed.  

“Straight back in. The same intensity, same enjoyment levels I’ve always had.” 

Gloucester-Hartpury finished last season in the top half of the table with 50 points – ten below Loughborough Lightning, who claimed the last semi-finals berth.  

The Premier 15s season will once again be played over 18 rounds, culminating with play-offs (21 May 2022) and a title final (4 June 2022, venue TBC). 

Ealing Times: The new season of the Allianz Premier 15s kicks off this weekendThe new season of the Allianz Premier 15s kicks off this weekend

As with last season, the top four teams will play their semi-final over one leg, hosted at the respective grounds of the first and second ranked team after the conclusion of the regular season.

The league introduced new rules for 2020-2021 intended to reduce face-to-face contact during the Covid-19 pandemic, including a play advantage law from a knock-on and the removal for the option for a scrum at free-kick or penalty. 

Hunt and her squad-mates are eager for the return of normal playing conditions, which will also see the end of 35-minute halves. 

“The thing that we lacked last year was the scrums,” she said.  

“We didn’t have that attacking opportunity and we’ve got some brilliant backs that we couldn’t really get the ball to, like Kelly Smith and Ellie Underwood for example out on the wings.  

“They didn’t get a lot of ball because all of our strike plays and our platforms weren’t really suiting them with just a line-out on the edge of the field.

“So we’re really looking forward to seeing those rules go, but equally we’re just building on what we did last year.

“We had a really solid year last year, we’re building again and everyone is really flying at the minute.” 

Those extra ten minutes, believes Hunt, make a “massive” difference, especially for a squad like Gloucester-Hartpury, who the skipper believes thrive in the dying minutes of a half. 

She said: “You’ve seen how tight those games were, especially towards the semi-finals and finals, who’d have known if an extra ten minutes were there, what would have happened?” 

Hunt could also be talking about Tokyo. 

But, she insisted, “It was always about being bigger than just the Olympics. It was about inspiring the next generation, it was about showing what people can do, it was about showcasing Sevens to the world. 

“We’re in a position where this country only sees Sevens once every four years, but it sounds like the whole country bought in. It’s brilliant game, it’s an amazing spectacle, and hopefully this will just kick-start everything moving forward.” 

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 throughout the 2021/22 campaign.