Worcester Valkyries endured a tough start to their Tyrrell’s Premier 15s campaign, losing 46-12 to an experienced Loughborough Lightning outfit at Loughborough University on Saturday.
A young Worcester side put up a valiant effort but conceded eight well-worked tries as Lightning were watched on by new Player-Coach and England captain, Sarah Hunter.
Loughborough’s Olivia Jones scored a double accompanied by tries from Bethan Zeidler, Natasha Jones, Charlotte Pierce, Ofure Ugiagbe, Lucy Nye and Celia Quansah to secure victory.
Valkyries picked up a couple of consolation tries late on through captain Lark Davies and Zoe Bennion but it was the hosts who came out on top in the first game of the season.
Loughborough looked electric from the off. Olivia Jones opened the scoring with a neat move as Jenny Maxwell shipped the ball wide and the number eight dummied before touching down with Florence Williams converting.
Lightning continued to surge forward with momentum throughout the opening exchanges, picking up loose ball and forcing mistakes from Worcester.
And Zeidler saw the rewards of this when Katie Trevarthen turned over possession for Maxwell to find the pacey wing in space to score in the corner.
Worcester looked to get a foothold in the game with Rebecca Herring producing quick-ball for Samantha Bree and Bennion to link up.
Helena Bunce impressed at the breakdown with an aggressive style of play but the visitors were put under pressure and forced back with the Lightning pack capitalising.
The hosts’ third try was made by a knock-on in Worcester’s 22 and from the resulting scrum Olivia Jones scored her second.
In a difficult first period, Worcester struggled to find possession and were forced to play off the ball, allowing Loughborough to play expansive rugby in attack.
This led to another try with fly-half Natasha Jones crashing over from close-range and Williams added the extras.
Valkyries looked to have gained some confidence in possession towards the end of the half with debutant Megan Varley impressing.
But Worcester were undone by some quick defending from Mags Lowish, who turned the ball over, and Pierce scored a wonderful solo try from halfway.
Lightning got their sixth try when Ugiagbe crashed her way through four defenders to stretch over the whitewash.
Despite a better second-half performance from Worcester the hosts were still able to mount enough pressure to bag another try as winger Nye benefited from a well-worked scrum just five metres out to score in the corner.
In the final quarter of the match the Valkyries gained a surge of momentum with Loughborough’s Emma Hardy receiving a yellow for an offside offence.
Valkyries’ standout captain Davies capitalised on slow defending to crash over the tryline after Worcester mounted pressure in the 22 and Bennion added a long-range conversion.
However Loughborough gained their eighth try of the match when Quansah raced over with a gaping hole in the Worcester defence.
Worcester mounted a last-ditch attack on the Lightning 22 and were rewarded for their pressure and persistence.
Loughborough scrum-half Maxwell was yellow-carded for a high tackle and Bennion crashed over in the corner to score in the final play of the game.
Next Saturday Valkyries get their home campaign underway at Sixways against Bristol Ladies Rugby (kick-off 2pm).