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, with both partners looking to drive performance outcomes to ensure ongoing success at the pinnacle of professional English rugby.
The team will remain named as Loughborough Lightning, but the side’s kit will now bear the Northampton Saints crest and Franklin’s Gardens will host several Lightning fixtures each season.
John Steele, Executive Director of Sport, Loughborough University said: “We’re thrilled to have agreed this partnership with Northampton Saints, with a pioneering arrangement that is unique in professional women’s rugby.
“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.”
The partnership between Lightning and Saints aims to continue the development of women’s rugby 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.
“We have always said it was a question of when, and not if, the Northampton Saints were to participate at the top table of the elite women’s game,” said Mark Darbon, Saints’ Chief Executive.
“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.”
As part of the agreement, Saints will also provide additional resources to support the development of the female game, starting with the appointment of Lightning and England players Sarah Hunter and Emily Scarratt as the Club’s Women’s Rugby Ambassador.
Hunter and Scarratt will begin working with Saints immediately to develop and execute the partnership’s key objectives, particularly in helping to grow the audience for women’s rugby across the region.
“The collaboration between Loughborough Lightning and Northampton Saints is a massive step forward for the development of the women’s game. Both organisations have a long, proud history in sport, and I’m honoured to have been asked to support this initiative in an ambassador role,” said Hunter.
“We are seeing a new era of women’s rugby and being at the forefront of that change is truly exciting. By working together, we can help grow the women’s game, whether that be at a grassroots level or for those that are already on the pathway to becoming future Red Roses.”
She added: “The Premier 15s has accelerated at a huge pace and we already have one of the best leagues in the world.
“With investment such as this partnership, the league will inevitably become more competitive and attract the best talent. It’s genuinely exciting to see where the product can be in a few years.”