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Allianz Cup clash at Gardens a ‘massive opportunity’, says Hibbert-Jones

Loughborough Lightning’s Allianz Cup clash with Sale Sharks this weekend presents a ‘massive opportunity’ for those involved, according to stand-in captain Daisy Hibbert-Jones.

The fifth-place play-off second leg match at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday (kick-off: 2.30pm) is the last match the African Violets play before their Six Nations stars return in time for the Allianz Premiership Women’s Rugby season getting back underway.

Head coach Nathan Smith will have the likes Emily Scarratt, Sadia Kabeya and Rachel Malcolm to call upon when the league games return – but Hibbert-Jones wants the squad that is preparing for this weekend’s game to make sure the current Test stars have to fight for Club starts.

“For us girls in the Cup, we have a massive opportunity to set the standard for those girls coming back in,” said Hibbert-Jones.

“We went to Sale a couple of weeks ago and probably didn’t have the performance that we wanted. We took the win but we know we were capable of much more. So, to be able to play at the Gardens in this Cup game is a massive opportunity for the players to make those shirts their own and try and make it really competitive for the Six Nations players that are returning back to the squad.

“But also to put out a performance that we are really proud of to kickstart us for the start of the Premiership again.”

Hibbert-Jones was named captain for the first leg of this tie at Heywood Road a fortnight and the No.8 skippered her team to a 22-12 victory against her former club.

The back-row is in line to captain Lightning for the return game at the Gardens – where she was a try-scorer against Sale in their Allianz PWR encounter eight weeks ago.

It is a new experience for the 21-year-old, but one she is relishing after being given a key leadership duty ahead of that 38-15 victory, when was among the Lightning try scorers.

“We have Rachel Malcolm who is an absolutely incredible captain and the way she galvanises the team and the way she talks to us is fantastic,” added Hibbert-Jones.

“There has been a couple of times where I’ve been vice-captain and I have sat behind and learned a lot from her. And that last Sale game at the Gardens, she encouraged me and allowed me to take the reins on the team talk.

“She said ‘you’ve played against them, you’ve played with them, so we think you’ll be the best person for the job’. That was a massive honour that she thought I was capable to give that pre-match team talk to the squad. That is the only experience I have had within this Lightning set-up.

“After being let go by England and knowing that I was going to be in this Cup squad for the next few weeks, it was really important for me as an opportunity to try and develop my leadership skills. Within this group I am an experienced player and I wanted to show that.”

Daisy Hibbert-Jones

Hibbert-Jones’ season started by making her Red Roses debut when she arrived as a replacement against Australia in the inaugural WXV 1. Upon her return to Club action, she has been a mainstay in the side making 15 appearances and scoring three tries.

While there is plenty of work left to be done to ensure Lightning finish the campaign as strongly as possible, Hibbert-Jones’ achievements already this term mean it’s one she can be understandably proud of.

“This season has been a ground-breaking one for me personally,” she said. “I got the opportunity to go into the England squad, I got my first cap which is something I had dreamed of for a number of years.

“After Sarah Hunter retired from rugby, that No.8 shirt opened up. My goal at the start of the season my goal was to make that shirt mine. I really wanted to become the first-choice starting No.8 and I feel like I have achieved that.

“But the only way I can continue that for the rest of the season is through hard work off the field but also on the field, being able to lead by example. It is something I pride myself on doing, working until that final whistle is another part of my game that is one of my super strengths.

“Just being able to work from start to finish and give my absolute all to every game is something that I want to be able to do. I think that has been rewarded with getting that No.8 shirt to start all bar one game, which is so exciting for me and it is something I have been working really hard to achieve since coming to Loughborough, so I am really proud of myself for doing that.”

Tickets for the match are available for £7.50 for adults and £3 for children, plus a £1.50 booking fee per ticket, by clicking HERE.

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