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Rowland, Mataitoga and Kabeya return for Lightning against Bears

Head coach Nathan Smith makes five changes to his Loughborough Lightning starting line-up this weekend, with an all-star trio of Helena Rowland, Bulou Mataitoga and Sadia Kabeya returning to action and a home debut in store for Kathryn Treder.

Lightning face off against Bristol Bears on Saturday (kick-off: 2pm) in their first league clash on home soil at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens this term, following away fixtures at Saracens and Leicester Tigers which sandwiched a bye in Round 2.

Smith’s side sit sixth in the Allianz Premiership Women’s Rugby standings after a 24-12 victory over East Midlands rivals Tigers last Sunday, and will look to leapfrog the Bears with a win this week – both sides sit level on points currently, with Bristol edging Loughborough into the bottom half of the table on points difference.

Lightning – who will run out in their Black, Green and Gold change strip this weekend for the first time – have won seven of the 12 league meetings between the sides so far, with one clash a draw, but it was the Bears who scooped a season’s double of victories last term and Smith is hoping his side can turn those results on their head on Saturday.

Smith said: “We were really happy with the win last weekend, and to get the five points – but more so happy with the way that we did it, as we found a way to get ourselves back into the game after dropping off a little at the start of the second half.

“Bristol had a great start to the season against Sale Sharks, and then two tough fixtures with Exeter away and Gloucester at home. They are two really good sides, and we know that this weekend Bristol are going to want a reaction, as they are probably not where they want to be after a couple of defeats.

“We are just going to keep doing what we have been doing over the last few weeks. There is no secret formula, you have just got to keep working on your principles, and keep working on bits of your game that’s going to keep you moving forward.”

Nathan Smith, Loughborough Lightning Head Coach

There’s two changes to the Lightning back-line on Saturday, with England international Rowland back at outside centre after a rest last weekend. The 24-year-old joins Carmela Morrall in the hosts’ midfield, while USA international Mataitoga lines up on the wing for her first Loughborough appearance of the season, with vice-captain Georgina Tasker and fullback Chloe Rollie completing the back three.

Helen Nelson and Megan Davey are selected together again in the half-back berths, and continue their partnership for the third straight match.

Treder celebrates her first start and a home debut in Lightning colours, packing down at hooker with Katie Trevarthen and Christine Belisle either side of her in the front row. Kabeya returns from injury to start at openside flanker, with captain Rachel Malcolm shifting into the No.8 jersey and fellow Scotland international Emma Wassell remaining at blindside flanker.

The only other change to Loughborough’s forward pack sees Abby Duguid replace the injured Catherine O’Donnell and join Lili Ives Campion in the engine room for the hosts, with the likes of Maja Meuller (scorer of two tries last weekend), Daisy Hibbert-Jones and Emma Hardy hoping to make an impact off the bench – plus there is a return to action for Hallie Taufoou, who makes her first appearance since May 2022 after re-signing for the Club.

Smith added: “We’re really excited to get back to cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens in front of our own fans, but we also understand the responsibility that playing on that pitch represents.

“We’re all really bought into making the Gardens our home moving forwards, and this weekend presents us with another opportunity to do that.”

Nathan Smith, Loughborough Lightning Head Coach

For the first time, all of Loughborough’s home league matches will be played at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens this season – Season Tickets covering all eight games are available now and start from just £40 adult / £22 junior (under-18s).

LOUGHBOROUGH LIGHTNING vs BRISTOL BEARS
Allianz Premiership Women’s Rugby, Round 4
Saturday 9 December 2023
cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens
Kick-off: 2pm

15 Chloe Rollie
14 Georgina Tasker (vc)
13 Helena Rowland
12 Carmela Morrall
11 Bulou Mataitoga
10 Helen Nelson
9 Megan Davey

1 Katie Trevarthen
2 Kathryn Treder
3 Christine Belisle
4 Lili Ives Campion
5 Abby Duguid
6 Emma Wassell
7 Sadia Kabeya
8 Rachel Malcolm (c)

Replacements:
16 Maja Meuller
17 Isla Curphey
18 Grace Clifford
19 Daisy Hibbert-Jones
20 Hallie Taufoou
21 Jess Weaver
22 Emma Hardy
23 Carys Williams-Morris

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