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Women’s Rugby

Trio of Red Roses re-sign with Loughborough

Loughborough Lightning are delighted to announce that Cath O’Donnell, Sadia Kabeya, and Helena Rowland have all signed contract extensions to remain at the Club.

The trio of England stars boast 60 international caps between them, as well as 110 appearances in all competitions for Lightning.

Director of Rugby Rhys Edwards said: “We’re delighted to secure the signatures of three key players in Cath, Sadia and Helena.

“They are established England internationals with invaluable experience they bring back into club rugby with Loughborough, and while all three are world-class players already, they all have so much potential to keep on improving, so we’re very excited to keep them at Lightning.”

Rhys Edwards, Director of Rugby at Loughborough Lightning

O’Donnell began her career at Firwood Waterloo, playing for England Under-20s while only 18 years old, before joining Loughborough Lightning where she has made 47 appearances in all competitions. A full England debut beckoned in 2018 as she came off the bench for the Red Roses during the Six Nations.

She earned a full-time England contract in 2019, before starting four of England’s five Six Nations games as they won the Grand Slam, and won the title again in 2021. O’Donnell missed the 2022 Six Nations campaign through injury, but recovered in time to make England’s World Cup squad that year, and was also part of the side which claimed a Six Nations Grand Slam in 2023.

Kabeya meanwhile joined Lightning from Wasps in 2021 and has since made 30 appearances in all competitions. She also came through the pathway system with England and earned her senior debut in the 2021 autumn internationals against Canada.

In 2022, she claimed her first Six Nations title and was named the RPA’s ‘Allianz Premier 15s Player of the Year’. Kabeya was then part of the squad which reached the final of the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, before winning the Grand Slam earlier this year and scooping another RPA gong – this time ‘England Player of the Year’.

Rowland has 33 Lightning appearances in all competitions to her name, and previously was part of the Saracens side which won the Allianz Premier 15s title in 2018.

A star of Sevens and XVs codes, the versatile 23-year-old back competed internationally for England Sevens and was part of the Team GB Sevens squad for the 2021 Olympic Games which finished fourth in Tokyo.

But since returning to XVs and joining Loughborough, Rowland has won two Six Nations Grand Slams, and was selected in the Red Roses squad for the Rugby World Cup – although an injury sustained in that tournament kept her out of much of Lightning’s 2022/23 campaign.

Edwards added: “Sadia is one of the most influential players in the women’s game at the moment, in terms of her performances throughout the Six Nations, but the potential she’s also still got to improve is also massive.

“So, it’s really exciting that we’ve supported her on that journey, and that she’s decided to stay on with Lightning to continue playing in Loughborough.

“Helena is also one of the best players in the world, and has been for a number of years. She’s got real ‘x-factor’ and it’s been pretty evident that we’ve missed her while she has been injured this season, as she makes a real difference for us.”

Rhys Edwards, Director of Rugby at Loughborough Lightning

“Having her back fit and available to play, and now staying in Loughborough for the foreseeable future, is really key. She’s already a world-class player, but only 23 years old with a lot of potential to get better too.

“Then Cath is another big signing for us, as she’s a classic example of someone who just goes about their business really, really well. Whenever she pulls on a Lightning jersey, she does all the hard work as an industrious second row that some people don’t necessarily notice.

“She’s extremely powerful and makes a huge difference for us on the pitch. We’re really pleased that having been here for six years now, she sees that we can support her towards the next World Cup with England and hopefully beyond.”

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