Catherine O’Donnell will make her 50th appearance for Loughborough Lightning this weekend, as Nathan Smith’s side make the short journey to Leicester Tigers for the first-ever Derby match between the two clubs.
Smith makes just two changes to his starting line-up for the Premiership Women’s Rugby clash, with Carmela Morrall and Maja Meuller coming into the side at Mattioli Woods Welford Road.
The fixture is set to be played in front of a bumper crowd in Leicester, following Tigers’ men’s side’s Gallagher Premiership fixture against Newcastle Falcons as part of a double header event, as well as being broadcast live on TNT Sports 2.
Lightning have won two of their last three league matches away from home, but (after a bye weekend) will be looking to bounce back from their opening-day defeat at Saracens on Sunday afternoon (kick-off: 5.30pm).
England international O’Donnell lines up in the engine room as she brings up a half-century of appearances in African Violet, joining Lili Ives Campion in an unchanged second row.
The only change to Loughborough’s pack comes at hooker, where Meuller is preferred in the No.2 jersey to pack down alongside props Katie Trevarthen and Christine Belisle.
That means an all-international back row of Emma Wassell, Rachel Malcolm (who skippers the side) and Daisy Hibbert-Jones link up again for Lightning to round off the pack.
Morrall comes in at inside centre for Loughborough in the only change to the back-line, with Emma Hardy switching into the No.13 jersey and Helena Rowland rested this weekend.
Helen Nelson and Megan Davey continue at fly-half and scrum-half respectively, and will look to pull the strings for Smith’s side, while a dangerous combination of Bo Westcombe-Evans, vice-captain Georgina Tasker, and Chloe Rollie – who all combined for a huge total of 370 metres made with ball in hand in Lightning’s first league match of the season – line-up together again in the back three.
Meanwhile, amongst the replacements, USA international hooker Kathryn Treder could make her Loughborough debut on Sunday if she enters the action, and both Abby Duguid and Carys Williams-Morris are primed for their first appearances in this season’s Premiership Women’s Rugby competition.
“Having the bye week has been really beneficial for us, giving us additional time to prep for this game and the season ahead,” Smith said.
“We only had our internationals coming back into our set-up a week prior to our first match at Saracens, and it takes time to instil the principles of how we want to play this season – especially given the changes we’ve made to the programme over the last few months.
“Leicester have had a challenging start to their season, playing two very good teams in Gloucester-Hartpury and Exeter so far, but I think they have put a couple of good performances together. We’re expecting a very tight encounter and will need to be at our best on Sunday.
“Playing at Welford Road does add to the occasion, but we’re not going to get bogged down with that – it’s great for the game to be playing in brilliant stadiums, but performances are what is going to fill those stadiums, so all our eyes are on performing well for Lightning rather than where we’re doing it.”
LEICESTER TIGERS v LOUGHBOROUGH LIGHTNING
Allianz Premiership Women’s Rugby, Round 3
Sunday 3 December 2023
Mattioli Woods Welford Road
15 Chloe Rollie
14 Georgina Tasker (vc)
13 Emma Hardy
12 Carmela Morrall
11 Bo Westcombe-Evans
10 Helen Nelson
9 Megan Davey
1 Katie Trevarthen
2 Maja Meuller
3 Christine Belisle
4 Lili Ives Campion
5 Catherine O’Donnell – 50th Lightning appearance
6 Emma Wassell
7 Rachel Malcolm (c)
8 Daisy Hibbert-Jones
16 Kathryn Treder – Loughborough Lightning debut
17 Isla Curphey
18 Grace Clifford
19 Abby Duguid
20 Kendall Waudby
21 Jess Weaver
22 Lia Green
23 Carys Williams-Morris