This year we see a new rivalry take shape as, for the first time ever, Leicester Tigers will take on Loughborough Lightning.
Even outside of geographical divisions, the match is an intriguing proposition for supporters in many ways.
It represents the establishment versus the rising stars. A club looking to get back to where they feel they belong versus one club still only just beginning to write history.
Loughborough were awarded a spot in the inaugural Premier 15s competition (now Allianz Premiership Women's Rugby), an original contingent of clubs that, much to the chagrin of those involved, did not include Lichfield Ladies, despite their 15 year inclusion in the Women's Premiership.
Lightning have played in all five seasons in the Premiership (the 2019/20 season having stopped due to the Covid pandemic), finishing in eighth place in 2022/23. Lightning had previously finished in the play-off places in two of their first three seasons, including a third placed finish in 2018/19 that saw them fall to finalists Harlequins in the semi-finals.
Their team contains leading figures in the women’s game and several established Red Roses, including talents like former World Player of the Year Emily Scarrett and the current England Women’s Player of the Year Sadia Kabeya.
Leicester Tigers, of course, partnered with Lichfield in 2021 to help launch the women’s programme and the two have worked extensively together over the last two years, with an established player pathway now in place and a sharing of resources across coaching, physio and nutritional help.
Having lifted the Championship North 1 title last year, Tigers are looking forward to an inaugural season in Allianz Premiership Women’s rugby which will see a significant step-up in terms of quality. However, the club insist this will not mean a compromise to the attacking principles that helped them rack up over 800 points over the 2022/23 season.
Furthermore, Tigers have strengthened their title-winning squad with established Internationals of their own, adding to a squad hungry to make the jump to the top level.
Speaking to former Lightning winger and new Tigers signing, Amanda Swartz, the speedster feels the two teams will both be going all-out in attack.
“In terms of game plan, they’ll probably be looking to play a lot of running rugby not too far from how we want to play” said Swartz “I’m also expecting a well-drilled set piece game as lineouts have always been something they’re particularly proud of.”
From the players perspective, there's plenty of reasons to be excited for the coming clash between the two sides.
There are plenty of players in the Tigers set-up who will be especially excited for this clash, having history with Lightning.
Leah Bartlett, more than most, knows what the team are all about, having the distinction of being Lightning #1, joining the team at their formation in 2017 and playing 56 times in Allianz Premiership Women's Rugby. The list of players with Lightning history also includes the likes of Jade Jones, Amanda Swartz and Amelia Tutt, all of whom will be eager to put in match-winning performances against their former club.
On the other side of the coin, the likes of Natasha Jones and Amy Orrow, childhood Tigers fans, know just how much bragging rights mean in the East-Midlands. There’s simply nothing better than beating your neighbours and the opportunity to do so at home, at Mattioli Woods Welford Road, will be one they are relishing.
When asked about how Lightning will be anticipating this fixture, Swartz added "I think they’ll come into this game all guns blazing. I feel like there is a big buzz already around this fixture, I know it’ll be one that both sets of fans have circled on their calendar and it’ll definitely be a game everyone wants to win. There already seems to be a bit of a rivalry growing so it’ll hopefully be a fiery first derby."
The opportunity to write a new history is one that has powered Leicester Tigers women’s team through an intense pre-season programme, the opportunity to disrupt the established order and be a part of a rising new power.
The opportunity to be trailblazers both within the club and across the midlands, to set the benchmark for future generations of Tigers.
But this game will represent something even greater, for the club, for the players, for the fans. The opportunity to strike the first blow in a new rivalry is one that fans will not want to miss.