Director of rugby Rhys Edwards is hoping for more consistency from Loughborough Lightning after reintegrating their Rugby World Cup stars back into his squad.
Lightning are without a win in five games so far in the Allianz Premier 15s, although with the exception of their 32-5 loss to Exeter Chiefs last month, they have been there or thereabouts in terms of performance.
Youngsters such as Daisy Hibbert-Jones, Emma Hardy and Lauren Bolger have impressed during the campaign after being given their opportunities, with the large group of internationals in the squad having the chance to rest after returning from the World Cup in New Zealand.
However, with experienced heads such as Emily Scarratt, Sarah Hunter, Rachel Malcolm and Sara Svoboda back in the fold, Loughborough will go into Sunday’s match against Wasps at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens virtually back up to full strength.
Edwards said: “It’s been a different start. We’ve obviously been aware of players being away at the World Cup, and part of our challenge was having so many.
“We had 16 players away altogether, so it was very much a different group in pre-season and the way our model is set up, with youngsters, it was a great opportunity for those.
“They had some good exposure in the Prem Cup, but the challenge now has been to reintegrate everybody back in, and the first five league games have probably reflected that.
“We’ve had changes weekly, with players returning from the World Cup and injury, so it hasn’t been the start we wanted but performances have started to improve in the last couple of rounds.
“We’re pleased to have a clean start in January, with everybody back, and a bit of consistency.”Rhys Edwards, Director of Rugby at Loughborough Lightning
The only Lightning players currently away on international duty are Abbie Brown, Georgina Tasker and Georgie Lingham, who are all part of the Great Britain Sevens programme.
This means Edwards will be able to name a strong line-up against a Wasps side who are also without a league win this season, in what is Loughborough’s second game of the campaign at the Gardens.
Edwards is pleased the home of Northampton Saints is starting to feel familiar to his players, saying: “We played a couple of games last year – a good win against Chiefs and then we played Quins in the last game of the season.
“The two days were brilliant, the players absolutely loved it and any time we’re playing there just lifts spirits a little bit and gives us a spring in our step.
“The girls are really looking forward to it – we were disappointed to have the game before [against Exeter] cancelled just before Christmas because of the weather and it really told.
“To be back this weekend is great and we’ve had a bit of a spring in our step this week, and we want to go out and perform, get that first win of the season and really get our season going at the start of 2023.”
Edwards will be able to plan in the long run after receiving the good news just before Christmas that they have been offered a place in the next cycle of the Premier 15s from next season.
As things stand, the same cannot be said for Wasps, who were not in the initial list of eight teams named due to the uncertainty surrounding the club after their men’s team went into administration in October.
Edwards sympathises with their plight, saying: “The association with the men’s teams has been a big thing, but when you look at Wasps, they haven’t really done anything wrong, but they’ve suffered with the Wasps men going into administration.
“I really feel for them in terms of how they’ve had to adapt and plan, but to see them playing is great and it’s credit to them that they’ve been able to regroup and continue to play under the circumstances.”