Loughborough Lightning welcome back nine internationals into their matchday squad for the trip to face Saracens in Round 1 of Allianz Premiership Women’s Rugby on Saturday 18 November (kick-off: 2.30pm).
Rachel Malcolm – who last month led Scotland to the WXV 2 title in South Africa – captains Lightning from openside flanker at StoneX Stadium, and is joined in the starting line up by several of her compatriots, with Chloe Rollie at fullback, Helen Nelson at fly-half, Emma Wassell at blindside flanker, and Christine Belisle selected at tighthead prop.
Fresh from playing in England’s WXV 1 triumph in New Zealand, the Red Roses trio of Helena Rowland, Daisy Hibbert-Jones and Catherine O’Donnell also make the starting XV on their returns to Club action – at outside centre, number eight and second row respectively.
The replacements bench features Sara Svoboda, who featured prominently for Canada in WXV 1, along with two star performers from Lightning’s Allianz Cup campaign; Lia Green and Ellen Scantlebury, who are in-line to make their Premiership debuts.
In total from their last outing against Trailfinders Women three weeks ago, head coach Nathan Smith has made six personnel changes in the forwards, with loosehead prop Katie Trevarthen and hooker Kendall Waudby the only players to continue.
In the backs, four players remain in the starting line-up with Megan Davey at scrum-half and Bo Westcombe-Evans on the left wing. Emma Hardy moves from outside to inside centre, and vice-captain Georgina Tasker switches from fullback to the right wing.
Integrating international returnees into a squad brimming with confidence after back-to-back wins was no easy feat for Smith, who takes charge of his first PWR match as Lightning head coach.
He said: “There has been a lot of uncomfortable people, because essentially nobody knew what the team was going to be.
“It’s testament to what the players have done in the Allianz Cup, and also that we’re getting back a number of international players of a world-class standard, so the competition for places is red hot at the moment which is exactly where we want it to be.”Nathan Smith, Loughborough Lightning head coach
“There’s a nice blend between experienced internationals and some good, young, up-and-coming players full of potential and other established players in there too.
“There’s some exciting young players in the team and I am looking forward to seeing how they perform alongside some more experienced forwards and key players in different positions.”
The two sides have already locked horns once this season back in September’s Cup match at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens, with Saracens edging a tight contest 33-25.
Like Lightning, they have returning WXV stars to bring into their squad, but Smith believes his side will be travelling south with no fear.
“It’s a huge challenge but a really exciting one,” Smith added. “I feel for us to get the performance that we’re after, we’re going to have to be the most physical a Lightning side has ever been.
“The main thing is, the team is connected. There’s a togetherness in the group that’s really exciting. I feel we don’t fear going to Saracens, we are excited for the challenge ahead more than anything and it will be tough.”Nathan Smith, Loughborough Lightning Head Coach
“They have a specific way they want to play the game and it needs a specific way of stopping it – hopefully we’re ready to do that.”
The match is available to stream live for free on the Sarries TV YouTube channel, with coverage starting from 2pm ahead of the 2.30pm kick-off.
SARACENS v LOUGHBOROUGH LIGHTNING
Allianz Premiership Women’s Rugby, Round 1
Saturday 18 November, 2023
15 Chloe Rollie
14 Georgina Tasker (vc)
13 Helena Rowland
12 Emma Hardy
11 Bo Westcombe-Evans
10 Helen Nelson
9 Megan Davey
1 Katie Trevarthen
2 Kendall Waudby
3 Christine Belisle
4 Lili Ives Campion
5 Catherine O’Donnell
6 Emma Wassell
7 Rachel Malcolm (c)
8 Daisy Hibbert-Jones
16 Phoebe Andrews
17 Isla Curphey
18 Grace Clifford
19 Maja Meuller
20 Sara Svoboda
21 Jess Weaver
22 Lia Green
23 Ellen Scantlebury