Saints announce link-up with Loughborough Lightning

Saints have finally arrived at the top table of women’s rugby.

Wednesday, 15th September 2021, 2:56 pm
Lightning's Sarah Hunter with Saints skipper Lewis Ludlam

The black, green and gold announced on Wednesday afternoon that they had formed an innovative new partnership with Loughborough University.

The new arrangement sees Loughborough Lightning – who have reached the semi-finals of the last two Allianz Premier 15s seasons – become a joint Loughborough Lightning/Northampton Saints elite women’s team.

Both partners will be looking to drive performance outcomes to ensure ongoing success at the pinnacle of professional English rugby.

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In the immediate term, the team will remain named as Loughborough Lightning, but the side’s kit will now bear the Saints crest and Franklin’s Gardens will host several Lightning fixtures each season.

“We have always said it was a question of when, and not if, Northampton Saints were to participate at the top table of the elite women’s game,” Saints CEO Mark Darbon said.

“This partnership provides the perfect opportunity for us to do so, and we hope that alongside hosting a Red Roses fixture here at the Gardens later this year, this partnership will significantly help to grow the audience for women’s and girls’ rugby in the East Midlands and beyond.

“Loughborough have enjoyed ongoing success in the Premier 15s competition, and our ambition as we become a joint Lightning/Saints side is to ensure that continues – we aim to help the team to retain its current elite players, and to attract other talented rugby players to Loughborough, while in the long-term ensuring that we build an elite player pathway system which will generate a high proportion of home-grown players.

“This partnership builds on the incredible success of the grassroots girls rugby programmes that Saints’ community team have scaled up in recent years.

“With thousands more women and girls having access to the sport we all love at grassroots level, we believe now is the perfect time for Northampton to enter the elite game – and we’re incredibly excited to get startedwith Loughborough.”

Saints have worked hard to develop girls’ rugby within the club’s region in recent seasons, with more than 1,600 players participating in the Saints 7s Series since the first girls-only U15s festivals began in 2012.

The club’s girls-only summer residential rugby camps at Stowe School have increased participants by over 200 per cent during the last three years, while every season thousands of girls benefit from the coaching in schools and matchday festivals delivered by Saints’ community team.

The partnership between Saints and Lightning will aim to continue this progress through effective community-focused programmes across the East Midlands and beyond, while simultaneously providing career development opportunities for women looking to gain experience in and/or transition to the administrative or coaching side of the game.

Director of sport at Loughborough University, John Steele, is relishing the potential for success presented by two powerhouses of East Midlands rugby joining forces.

“We’re thrilled to have agreed this partnership with Northampton Saints, with a pioneering arrangement that is unique in professional women’s rugby,” said Steele.

“Lightning and Saints both have a significant presence at the top of English rugby, and as we now work side-by-side, I’ve no doubt the new relationship will strengthen both teams as we look to win trophies and grow the game of rugby.”

As part of partnership, Saints will also provideadditional resources to support the development of the female game, starting with the appointment of Sarah Hunter and Emily Scarratt as the club’s women’s rugby ambassadors.

Hunter and Scarratt will start working with Saints immediately to develop and execute the partnership’s key aims, particularly in helping to grow the audience for women’s rugby across the region.

Rhys Edwards, Loughborough’s director of rugby, said: “There is a huge opportunity for collaboration and knowledge sharing between ourselves and Northampton, notably around the creation of a thriving pathway system given Saints’ outstanding track record with their men’s Academy.

“We have built a successful team with multiple international players and two former world players of the year in Hunter and Scarratt.

“This is the next exciting stage of our evolution as we move forwards to create a long-standing legacy in the women’s game.”