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Lightning’s try-fest against Trailfinders a ‘good advert for PWR’, says Smith

Loughborough’s high-scoring victory over Trailfinders Women was a ‘good advert’ for Allianz Premiership Women’s Rugby, according to Lightning Head Coach Nathan Smith.

Freezing conditions forced a switch of the match from cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens to the all-weather surface at Loughborough University, but those who braved the cold at Epinal Way were served up a warm dose of attacking rugby on Saturday afternoon.

It was the hosts who came out on top of the ten-try encounter, securing maximum points with a 45-21 victory to finish the first half of the league campaign hot on the heels of the top four.

“First and foremost, similarly to our win at Harlequins, it was just a great game of rugby,” said Smith. 

“It was a really good advert of attacking rugby from both teams. The PWR should be proud of it.”

Nathan Smith, Loughborough Lightning Head Coach

Helen Nelson marked her return with a try before Sadia Kabeya took over with a brace and Catherine O’Donnell and Bulou Mataitoga also crossed the line before half-time to open a 33-14 lead.

Once more the girls in African Violet shirts showed a ruthless edge when in the 22 to turn pressure into points – just as they did when coming from behind to win 29-26 at Harlequins in Round 8.

“It is something we focus on heavily,” Smith explained. “Once we are in there, I want to come away with points. Our set-piece is rocking and rolling in the right direction. 

“I wouldn't want to preview us at the moment, there’s so many different ways of scoring tries it is not just a maul try. It’s pick and go, it is playing wide, it is playing through, I am pretty happy.”

Kabeya’s double were her first tries of the 2023/24 campaign as the flanker celebrated her Red Roses call-up in midweek by adding points to her phenomenal defensive efforts since returning from injury.

“Sadia is a world-class seven, but there are big areas of growth within her game,” the Lightning boss said. “I think defensively there is no-one in the game as good as her, however I think attack is her biggest work on. She showed some great ball carries today and she managed to get over the line as well which is always good for her.”

Another England international who enjoyed a fruitful afternoon was Helena Rowland. Smith opted to keep her at fly-half and switch the returning Nelson to inside centre in a move that paid dividends for both.

On top of her five successful conversions, Rowland weighed in with a moment of individual brilliance to chip in behind the defence and regather the ball for the try that confirmed the victory – before Chloe Rollie added further gloss in the game’s final play.

“We are pretty lucky that we have a group of players – and Helena is one of them – that are world class,” Smith added. 

“It is great to see her smiling. The last two games I feel like she has been running around with a smile on her face.”

Nathan Smith, Loughborough Lightning Head Coach

“It doesn’t matter about tactical stuff, if you are not happy you’re not going to play well and she has certainly been happy the last couple of games and that chip-and-chase try just showed that she had the confidence to do it but also execute it.”

A first home league win of the season means Lightning have taken maximum points from their last two fixtures, putting a spring in their step ahead a three-week gap before Leicester Tigers arrive at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday 10 February (kick-off: 2pm).

“You do have to take one game at a time but, there’s no point getting a big win against Quins and backing it up with a poor performance, and we’ve certainly not done that. We backed it up with a big performance,” Smith said.

“The test is the season is fractured, we’ve got two weeks off now before we play Tigers. We have got a week off after that and then we roll into a bank of games that is going to be critical for where we finish the season in terms of Bristol, Sale, and Exeter.

“I think those spells that you are not in, it is how do you keep your concentration and how do you keep the motivation high? Winning at the end of a block of games going into a break is one of the best ways to do that.”

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