Loughborough Lightning secure historic win at Franklin’s Gardens

three women in the stands

Allianz Premier 15s side Loughborough Lightning beat Exeter in their first ever game at Franklin’s Gardens, home of the Northampton Saints. Lightning, who agreed a strategic partnership with Saints in September 2021, were quick to showcase their exciting brand of rugby in front of several thousand enthusiastic supporters.

Final Score: Loughborough Lightning: 28  -  Exeter: 25

On an ice-cold night as storm Eunice swept away from the East Midlands, Lightning came out on top after a valiant effort by Exeter who led for large parts of the game.

Lightning started the game brightly scoring a first try in the opening ten minutes.  High speed play on the immaculate pitch and direct running lines saw powerful forward Charli Jacoby blast over the try line. Helena Rowland converted giving Lightning the perfect start. 

Thereafter, it was Exeter who began to dominate, having the bulk of both territory and possession.  Strong runs by Exeter and efficient work at the breakdown piled the pressure on Lightning who tackled tenaciously across the field.  Loughborough fought hard but just after the half hour mark Exeter battled over to score, adding the conversion to level the game at 7 points all 

Exeter continued to press hard as the game approached half time but it was Lightning who ended the first 40 minutes on a high.   Fran Goldthorp grabbed a loose ball on the half way line and scorched down the pitch to secure Lightning a second try.  With Rowland adding the conversion Lightning went into the half time break 14-7 ahead.

Exeter kicked off the second half and Loughborough responded with a series of dynamic runs by the Lightning back rowers but it was Exeter who secured a penalty after 45 minutes closing the score to 14-10.  Exeter continued to press hard and Olivia Jones touched down in the 49th minute putting the Chiefs ahead of Lightning for the first time.  An unsuccessful conversion meant the score was 14-15.

Exeter continued to drive into Lightning territory with Sarah Hunter and Sadia Kabeya tackling ferociously to hold back the waves of Exeter attackers.  Under relentless pressure Lightning skipper Lark Davies found her way to an enforced ten-minute break as she sought to contain the Exeter attack.  The Exeter penalty extended their lead to 14-18.

With just 20 minutes left in the game Exeter capitalised on the temporarily depleted Lightning side.  Hope Rogers broke the Loughborough defensive line taking the score to 14-23.  A successful conversion meant Exeter were leading 14-25.

In the closing quarter Lightning flooded the pitch with replacements and skipper Davies returned to the field, taking Loughborough back to full strength.

players on the pitch

With less than five minutes left of normal time, Rowlands landed a penalty five yards from the Exeter try line.  The ensuing lineout ran like clockwork and a series of powerful carries by the forwards saw Kabeya crash over to score.  With another successful conversion by Rowland, the score was 21 -25 and the Franklin’s Garden’s crowd started to roar on Lightning’s spirited efforts in the final moments of the game.

Lightning secured possession from the re-start and a repeat of the pinpoint kicking by Rowland to the same corner as just moments before, followed by yet another superb line out saw Lightning launch themselves at the Exeter line.  Unable to stop the Lightning attack it was Kabeya again who smashed through the Exeter defence, over the line, right under the posts. Rowland who kicked impressively all game, slotted the conversion and the game ended 28-25.

Lightning Captain Lark Davies said, “We’ve got a great team, with a fantastic team spirit.  Exeter were consistently challenging us throughout the game but ultimately we managed to win through great defence, dynamic attacking and our never-say-die attitude.  I’m so proud of the whole team and it’s brilliant to win our first ever match at Franklin’s Gardens in such an emphatic way.”

Loughborough Director of Rugby, Rhys Edwards said, “This was a great all-round team effort.  We defended well under intense pressure from Exeter and took our chances when they came.  Playing in a world class stadium like Franklin’s Gardens with so many noisy and enthusiastic supporters made a huge difference.  We’re looking ahead now to continue to build momentum in the coming weeks.”

Computacenter Player of the Match: Sadia Kabeya

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Photo credit: Ben Lumley