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Smith impressed with Lightning youngsters in Allianz Cup win

Head coach Nathan Smith expressed his content in the number of young players who contributed to Loughborough Lightning’s 22-12 Allianz Cup victory away at Sale Sharks.

With the Women’s Six Nations in full flow and Loughborough University participating in the BUCS National Championship final on Wednesday 17 April, Lightning selected a side filled with youth and debutants on Saturday at Heywood Road.

Six players in all made their first appearances for the club, including Lucy Calladine, Evelyn Clarke and Freya Greensmith – who were all in the starting 15.

It was a cagey affair in the first half, with Lightning holding a five-point advantage going into the break with Cath O’Donnell crossing the line and Lia Green contributing a handful of points from the tee.

Further tries from Lucia Linn and debutant Calladine in the second 40 proved the difference, as the away side built a lead that Sale couldn’t claw back, handing them a ten-point advantage ahead of the second-leg back at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday 27 April.

“I was really impressed with Sale,” said Smith. “They were very good in the first 40 minutes. I thought they moved the ball well, played with ambition and they have obviously worked pretty hard in the down period and were tough defensively, so I was really impressed with them.

“I don’t think we were physically and mentally where we needed to be in the first half, but that happens after a decent break from games.

“Some of these girls haven’t played a game of rugby since the Exeter game, but then some of them haven’t played all year for Lightning or since the early rounds of the Premiership Cup. For people like Lucia Linn, Evelyn Clarke a Lucy Calladine, it was great for them to get some minutes.”

Nobody has played fewer Lightning minutes in the last two years though, than Scotland scrum-half Jenny Maxwell. The 31-year-old suffered a major knee injury while on international duty and made her return to action on loan at Edinburgh in December, before running out for Lightning for the first time in 25 months on Saturday afternoon.

“Jenny has worked immensely hard off the field to get back onto the pitch and she showed some great signs on Saturday.”

Nathan Smith, Loughborough Lightning Head Coach

With Maxwell starting at nine, fellow scrum-half Meg Davey wore the ten shirt and controlled the game well while playing out of position, including a well-executed 50-22.

“She hasn’t played there very often,” said Smith. “But with the numbers available to us this week, Meg filled in. She is obviously a very good footballer, so she has the attributes to be able to play at fly-half, but it isn’t a long-term plan! 

Davey did switch back to her preferred position later in the game after Maxwell was substituted with Lia Green switching to ten, and Green had an impressive game at both full-back – where she started the contest – and then at fly-half.

“Lia has been very impressive for our BUCS team, she has done well and been called up to the England U20s team in preparation for the France game which she thoroughly deserved,” explained Smith. 

“She is a player with high potential and there’s not many people her age in the women’s game who can kick the ball like Lia can, and she is in the infancy of her education in rugby. From where she was at the start of the season to where she is now, it’s a credit to her effort, but she also needs to keep going and growing as a rugby player.”

Lightning now have a week off before the return leg back at the Gardens a week on Saturday, and Smith is excited to be playing back at home.

“We are looking forward to be playing back at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens,” he said. “I imagine within the team, there will be quite a few players that haven’t experienced playing at the Gardens, so it’ll be great experience for them moving forward and to then stake a claim for putting their hand up when we get back into league action against Gloucester.”

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