You might say Loughborough Lightning hit the refresh button over the summer and Carys Williams-Morris is under no illusions that the club are going through a transitional period.
With Nathan Smith appointed as their new head coach, Loughborough currently sit eighth in the Allianz Premiership Women’s Rugby table, winning just one of their three games.
Last Saturday, Lightning were unable to pick up their first victory on home soil against Bristol Bears Women as they fell short of securing a bonus point in a 46-17 loss despite some key stars returning from injury.
But Williams-Morris believes this is a year of adapting for Loughborough and the Welsh international is excited about the future.
“I think when we first came into the league in 2017, we were finishing in the top four and we've got a really good programme and good people at Loughborough,” Williams-Morris tells TRU.
Lightning lost their first home league game of the season at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens.— Loughborough Lightning Rugby ?? (@LightningRugby) December 10, 2023
Read our report from @ThePWR clash on Saturday afternoon against Bristol Bears ? ??https://t.co/z0mq1rAyDR
“I think our partnership with Saints (Northampton Saints) is only going to make us stronger and more competitive in the league.
“We're obviously going through a transitional period at the moment and I think that's reflected where we finished in the league last year [eighth ahead of DMP Sharks and Wasps] but I think we're in an exciting place. We beat Leicester Tigers [in Round Three] which gave us a good five points on the table.
“We've got a new backs coach as well as a new head coach. Having a change of staff and a freshen up has been good for us. We're getting a lot of detail on how we want to play. It's changed how we want to play.
“There's a lot of clarity as well so for me personally as a player, that's something I want to keep developing my understanding of and keep pushing myself. Under Nathan and Alex White, that's something I personally feel I'm already developing on. That can only make us better as a team as well.”
This fresh vision for Lightning may well have included England’s most capped player and former Loughborough star Sarah Hunter.
After calling time on her playing career earlier this year - following the TikTok Women’s Six Nations opener against Scotland - Loughborough’s Director of Rugby, Rhys Edwards, admitted the club “had been looking forward to her taking on a larger role with Lightning.”
It meant one of the trailblazers for the women’s game departed the club and Williams-Morris tells TRU just how influential ‘Sunts’ was as a player when they took to the pitch together.
“Her experience and how she is as a leader was great for Loughborough,” Williams-Morris adds. “I think her influence on the programme and how we operated was massive as well.
“I think it's really exciting that she's got an opportunity with England. Obviously, she was appointed to be our coach after her retirement but she's been fortunate enough to go on and do big things with England which I think is really good for her.
“I've obviously known her for a number of years playing at Lichfield together and playing at Loughborough with her. I think it's amazing that a woman in rugby has had a really successful playing career and it's really inspiring that she’s kicked on and is doing really well off the field and into retirement as well.”
Hunter’s impact on the growth of the sport will continue with England as they work towards the 2025 World Cup, and Williams-Morris has also recently taken on a role where she is hoping to change the game for the better.
The 30-year-old, who also serves in the Royal Air Force, was elected as Loughborough's representative on the new Women's Rugby Association Players' Board. Off the pitch, she'll be working closely with the WRA to make sure the players' voices are being heard.
“I'm the player rep for Loughborough Lightning,” she says. “That means that any members at Loughborough can either speak to me if they have questions about what the WRA do or I can point them in the right direction for how the WRA can help them. Also, in terms of the change the WRA wants to make with regards to the league.
“I'm the voice for Loughborough and I'll speak to our players. Obviously, I've only just come into the role but throughout the season, I'll be the point of contact for all of our members at Loughborough.
“They can speak to me and I'll give feedback to the board. That could be personal player support in terms of how we can do better as a league and supporting players with things like mental health, lifestyle support and the wider things of how the league operates or how other clubs operate as well. We can help advise on that and improve it.”
The WRA was launched in 2021 with World Cup winner Nolli Waterman as CEO and the Players’ Board - which now includes Williams-Morris - has been elected by members who play for the relevant club.
With a new role off the field, Williams-Morris will also be turning her attention to matters on the pitch this weekend when Loughborough travel to Heywood Road to try and beat Sale Sharks - a side who are chomping at the bit to play after having their last two games postponed due to adverse weather conditions.
In their last fixture, the North-West outfit produced a stunning 35-31 win against Harlequins and Williams-Morris feels the Allianz Premiership Women’s Rugby has gone up another level this term.
“I think this league, particularly this year, is more competitive than ever,” she says. “There’s going to be shock results I think all through the season and I think if we can build through the season and aim for good performances, we can build on things week by week which will be positive for us.”