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Loughborough Lightning sign Red Roses prop Laura Keates

Loughborough Lightning have bolstered their front row options by completing the signing of Red Roses international Laura Keates.

The 62-times capped England forward has been training with Lightning in recent weeks and has now put pen to paper on a deal for the remainder of the 2023/24 Allianz Premiership Women’s Rugby season.

Keates made her Red Roses debut in 2011 and picked up a Rugby World Cup winner’s medal in France three years later, coming off the bench in the second half of the final victory against Canada.

She was participating in the postponed 2021 edition of the tournament when she suffered an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury while training in New Zealand.

Before Keates had rehabilitated from the subsequent knee surgery, Worcester Warriors, her club since 2005, were withdrawn from Allianz PWR on the eve of the 2023/24 season by Club owners.

The 35-year-old has been without a club ever since before Loughborough made an approach and ultimately secured her services.

“I was rehabbing remotely and Loughborough reached out to me,” Keates said. “I went along to training and got to experience the environment and quickly realised it was something I wanted to be a part of.

“Everyone was so friendly, and they were so supportive in helping me get back to full fitness.”

Laura Keates

“It has been a really up and down time for me. I’ve had some big injuries over the last few years. When Worcester went down, especially having been with them for so long, and with my injury situation, retirement did cross my mind.

“But most rugby players, whatever level they are playing at, will say that they want to finish on their terms and I didn’t really feel like I got that.

“I always wanted to play again and that was what I was rehabbing for before things went wrong at Worcester. Now I’ve got the opportunity to put that right with Loughborough.”

Lightning Head Coach Nathan Smith was delighted to bring a player of Keates’ immense pedigree into the club.

“First and foremost, she is going to add to the environment,” he said. “Laura is a great person, she has great Premiership and international experience. We are extremely lucky that she wants to come and play the remainder of the season with us. 

“Laura is close friends with Scaz [Emily Scarratt] and it is a similar scenario where there’s a bit of unfinished business in terms of it wasn’t her decision to stop playing. It wasn’t her decision that things at Worcester ended the way they did.

“I think she wants to end it on her own terms, whenever that might be. There is certainly a hunger and a motivation there to play rugby but also to improve.”

Nathan Smith, Loughborough Lightning Head Coach

Smith also sees the new arrival having a big impact on the next generation of prop forwards within the Lightning ranks.

“I think she will certainly add to the forwards group,” he said.  “We have recruited some high-potential young props and alongside Katie Trevarthen, Laura will be an exceptional mentor for them. Not only for the technical and tactical side of things, but also modelling professional behaviours. Laura has still got growth within her game, she is really hungry to play, so we are really excited to have her.”

A mentoring role is one Keates is familiar with and is looking forward to picking up once more.

She said: “It was one of the things I did at Worcester when I was long-term injured, I was able to help out with some of the coaching for the forwards and specifically looking after the scrum along with some technical, one-to-one elements of the game.

“I would be very keen to keep that going. It’s a bit of a dark art playing in the front row and I’ve played my whole career there and is is something I am very keen to pass on.”

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