Leicester are set to become the latest men’s Premiership club to field a side in the women’s Premier 15s, with Ealing also offered a place in the league.
Eight clubs have been offered a place in the next cycle of the competition, beginning with the 2023-24 season.
Two more could still be selected, with the Rugby Football Union (RFU) saying the league has capacity for 10 sides.
Loughborough is the most northern team currently included, with DMP Sharks and Sale left out at this stage.
Financially-stricken Worcester and Wasps are also not included, although the clubs are able to appeal against the decision.
Leicester and men’s Championship leaders Ealing will be joined in the league by existing Premier 15s clubs Loughborough – who are supported by men’s Premiership side Northampton Saints – Bristol, Exeter, Gloucester-Hartpury, Harlequins and Saracens.
The RFU said “there is potential for clubs to join the league at a later stage” and that the eight clubs’ inclusion is “subject to the signing of shareholder and other agreements”.
It added that the selection panel “made a strong recommendation to explore how greater geographical spread can be provided in the league”.
The RFU is “working to develop a solution” for clubs that applied but have not been offered a place in the league.
What have the excluded teams said?
All four teams left out of the league made statements following the RFU’s announcement.
Wasps said they hoped to rejoin the league “at the earliest possible moment”, adding that they would make the move from London to Coventry to be more closely aligned with the men’s side.
Worcester are “committed to working with the RFU to secure one of the final league positions”.
DMP Sharks, who had to crowdfund to stay in the league this season, did not apply to be included from the next campaign because of the increased level of investment required.
A statement from Sharks players said: “Our goal remains to fight for elite competition in the north east and despite there being no representation for the area in the Premier 15s next season, we are hopeful that the future remains bright for the nurturing of the vast talent home to the region.”
Sale Sharks chief executive Sid Sutton said: “Everyone at Sale Sharks is absolutely devastated at today’s decision to reject the club’s application to remain part of the Premier 15s league.
“We’re all disappointed that despite the stated desire to ensure a ‘greater geographical spread’ of teams, the Premier 15s won’t have any northern representation from 2023-24.”
Former England player Giselle Mather, Ealing’s director of women’s rugby, and said she was “delighted” at the club’s inclusion, while fellow ex-Red Rose Vicky Macqueen, head of women’s rugby at Leicester, said it was a “big day for Leicester Tigers”.