By Milly McEvoy
All eyes will be on Loughborough Lightning this Allianz Premier 15s season, but that is just how Emma Hardy wants it.
The East Midlands side finished in seventh place in the 2021-22 Allianz Premier 15s campaign, 10 points off a semi-final spot and Hardy believes they will learn from last season’s mistakes.
They kick off their campaign away to defending champions Saracens, which will be streamed live on the BBC as part of the Allianz Premier 15s’ new deal to see one game each week shown live on the BBC.
“We've got pretty high expectations as always, we want to go for top four and we really want to push for those top places,” the 22-year-old said.
“Hopefully, we get to the final and then win, we want to aim high as we always do.
“We didn't finish as high as we wanted to last season, so off the back of that I think it's really important for us to get a fast start and really try and get some momentum going through the season.
Sᴜɴᴅᴀʏ: Sᴏʀᴛᴇᴅ ✅
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“A couple of times last season we got a bit guilty of focusing too much on the opposition.
“The way we play we like to play is to be ambitious. We really like to throw the ball around as long as we stick to that and get that right we can beat any team.
“So just sticking to our processes and trusting in ourselves to be able to pull it off. The focus is really on us this season.”
Loughborough Lightning boast a wealth of international experience, their club captain is Scotland skipper Rachel Malcolm, while they will soon be able to call on the seven Loughborough players who were part of England’s World Cup squad.
It is the very reason why they were able to attract another player with international ambitions in Daisy Hibbert-Jones.
While still at Sale Sharks, Hibbert-Jones was selected for the England U20s squad and has already settled into the Lightning squad, scoring a try on debut in the Allianz Cup.
Hibbert-Jones combines her rugby with working alongside Hardy as a coach for Northampton Saints who are embarking on their second year as a partner with Loughborough, including hosting at least five of their games at Cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens.
“That's why I'm here,” Hibbert-Jones said. “The pathway that Loughborough have is an incredible pathway and that and they have evidence to show that.
“The amount of players that have come through their pathway and come through their programme and are now playing at international level.
“You've got the likes of Sarah Hunter who's got such a wealth of experience behind her and people who are still starting off their international careers like Detysha Harper, Morwenna Talling, Sadia Kabeya.
“They're already breaking into the England team and it's incredible because that's somewhere I'd love to see myself push towards.
“I think being an environment where they have evidence of that happening, it’s a pretty cool place to be.”
Allianz Premier 15s - the elite women’s rugby competition in England. @Premier15s