Northampton Saints have announced partnership with Loughborough University as they have allied themselves to create a combined women's team.
The team will retain the name Loughborough Lightning but the side’s kit will now bear the Northampton Saints crest. Franklin's Gardens - the home of the Saints - will also host at least three of Lightning fixtures this season.
The partnership between Saints and Lightning aims 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.
Loughborough and England duo Sarah Hunter and Emily Scarratt have been appointed as Saints' Women’s Rugby Ambassadors.
Northampton Saints chief executive Mark Darbon feels the partnership will provide the perfect platform for their women's team as they collaborate with with Loughborough Lightning.
“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,” said Darbon.
“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.