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Lightning have point to prove this season, says Rowland

Fresh from claiming the inaugural WXV 1 title with England, Helena Rowland is back in African Violet and preparing for the start of Loughborough Lightning’s Allianz Premiership Women’s Rugby campaign.

We sat down with the versatile 24-year-old back ahead of this weekend’s opening clash away at Saracens to talk about returning to camp at Epinal Way, changes to the side under head coach Nathan Smith, England’s WXV 1 triumph, and more…

Q: How have you enjoyed getting back into the Lightning camp after returning from New Zealand and WXV 1?
HR: It’s been going well so far. Monday was the first day that we were back all together, with some of the girls from WXV 2 back last week. They have been building something pretty good over the Cup period, and coming back into that is exciting. The culture of the group is good and everyone is working really hard. So, I’m very excited for the first game of the season and hopefully we can kick on from there.

Q: What feels different with the group heading into the new league campaign?
HR: It’s very different from last year. I was in for two weeks in preseason, so I had a little bit of an idea of what I was coming back into. You walk into the Club room, and it just feels like one big team, so it’s nice to just come back in and feel so welcomed. They have done really well so far this season, improving week on week, so it’s really important for us coming back in to try and integrate into that – and not change anything as it is clearly working. In terms of training and the on-pitch stuff, there has been some changes in how we want to play and how we approach it.

Over the last few seasons, we have probably played a nice brand of rugby, but ultimately – and particularly in the last couple years – that’s not enough, and it showed in a few of the performances last year. So, [head coach] Nathan Smith has definitely bought that bit more aggression within the squad, which hopefully will be a good going forward.

Q: Are those sorts of changes quite refreshing to see?
HR: Definitely. We probably became a little bit stagnant with what we were doing, and the system didn’t change since I had been here, so it is definitely refreshing. We needed to change things up and keep everyone on their toes, and now you are seeing that, as in the Cup we beat Quins, got a good win over Trailfinders, and only lost narrowly to Gloucester and Saracens. So, you can see we are moving in the right direction and that there’s some promising signs.

Q: How do you feel individually coming back from WXV1?
HR: We had last week off, so it was nice to be able to have a refresh and get over the jet lag. It’s a pretty full-on season now and it is exciting getting back into it. We’ve got a bit of a point to prove after the last couple of years, which is sometimes a nice place to be – as underdogs. I can’t wait to get into it, I think it’s going to be a competitive season, and I’m ready for it to start.

Q: After doing so well in WXV 1, are you coming back to Loughborough Lightning full of confidence for this season?
HR: It can only be a good thing that you have got a fair number of players that are on a winning run and full of confidence. Last season it was very much the opposite, in terms of the results we were getting both for the Club and internationally, so it can only be a good thing going forward. There is three of us returning from WXV 1 with England, and then five Scottish players coming back from winning WXV 2, and that’s a decent chunk of the squad on top of the rest of the girls putting some good performances in the Cup as well – so on the whole, morale is pretty high at the moment. I’m looking forward to getting into it and really testing myself, and there’s no better way to do that than against Saracens, who are consistently at the top of the table.

Q: What did you make of the deal between Premiership Women’s Rugby and TNT Sports to broadcast more top-flight women’s rugby this season?
HR: It’s massive, absolutely huge in terms of boosting those viewership numbers. You just have to look at the impact having our games on the TV has had from a Red Roses point of view. You’ve got those players, plus some of the best players internationally around the world, all playing in the same league which will make it good to watch. Hopefully this deal is only going to strengthen the Clubs’ and the players’ fanbases, and get more people into the game.

Q: Two new clubs have joined Premiership Women’s Rugby this season – Leicester Tigers and Ealing Trailfinders. What do you think they will add to the league?
HR: It is great for the competition, and both teams have recruited pretty well over the summer, so it will be interesting to see how they go. It’s a fresh challenge, as you don’t know what they’re going to bring to start off with, so those first rounds of matches against the new teams are going to be very interesting.

Q: Lightning play Saracens this weekend in Round 1; how tough a challenge will that be first up?
HR: They’re going to be out there with a point to prove. They have got some key players returning as well, so I think it’s going to be a great game. There’s no better way to test where you’re at than against the best teams in league, so we are really looking forward to the challenge, and we are not going to take a backward step. We’re aware of what Saracens bring, and what they’re about, and we’re looking to take the game to them on Saturday.

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