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Loughborough Lightning: Fran Williams revelling in her strong unit

Fran Williams during Lightning's clash with Leeds Rhinos. Image: Ben Lumley Photography

From the black and gold of Wasps, to the striking purple of Loughborough Lightning, Fran Williams is eyeing a third Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) title in five years.

The Vitality Roses defender joined the champions last October as what Sara Francis-Bayman described at the time as the ‘missing piece in our defensive puzzle.’ And after 11 games, the 24-year-old has become a mainstay in Lightning’s admired defensive unit.

Striking back

After losing out in a ‘game of chess’ with top of the table rivals, Manchester Thunder, Lightning were faced with the challenge of bouncing back against two sides with serious top four claims.

First up, London Pulse. Without the presence of their talismanic defender, Funmi Fadoju, Lightning’s attacking end prospered. Hannah Joseph and Suzie Liverseidge combined well with a sharp shooting, Mary Cholhok as the visitors stormed into a 20-6 lead after the first quarter. The deficit widened as Lightning charged to victory, becoming the first side to win at the Copper Box Arena.

Two days later, they welcomed Leeds Rhinos who showed why they reached the final four last season, taking an early lead after the first quarter.

But after the break, Lightning struck back and exerted some relentless pressure on the Rhinos defence, swinging the game in their favour as they pushed on to secure a significant second win of Round 12.

“It was a really gritty win for us,” Williams began to explain after the game.

“Off the back of playing Pulse away on Saturday, to come out and be able to put in a solid team performance and get the win, it couldn’t be better.”

“There’s definitely things we can tidy up but we’ve got a bye weekend coming up now so we’ll get some rest which I think we all need as a squad.”

Combining with Cobden

Beth Cobden has been a key component in Lightning’s defensive end and was awarded player of the match on Monday, picking up two intercepts and three turnovers, moving the ball quickly through the middle of the court and acting as a metronome to keep the home side ticking over.

“Our second quarter was great; we had a run of 12 goals and I think a lot of that came down to many of Beth’s [Cobden] intercepts.

“Betty has been awesome for us. She really led like a true leader and I think the team vibed off that and it helped us pull through for the win.”

Life at Lightning

Since moving across the Midlands, along with Cobden,  Williams has strengthened bonds with other fellow Roses Nat Panagarry and Ella Clark – both of whom tasted success in last year’s VNSL Grand Final against Team Bath.

Williams has developed a particularly strong partnership with Alice Harvey with the pair of them forging the second best defensive record for goals against after 11 games.

As well as bringing her closer to her team mates and her centralised training programme with England Netball at Loughborough University, Williams believes that the move particularly benefits the way she plays the game.

“We’re such a team when it comes to how we defend here at Loughborough. We play with a real strong structure which suits all of our styles and that helps us come out with those unit intercepts – whether that’s Al [Alice Harvey] picking it up at the back or the rest us of winning the ball from the front.”

Going under the radar

Before their defeat to the current ‘Thunderfeatables’, Lightning were considered to be going under the radar with their strong but subtle performances.

And after two considerable wins in the wake of their first defeat, and with eyes now looking at whose coming up for the top four, Lightning have solidified their top two spot.

“We’re just keeping to ourselves. We know what we need to work on and what’s working well for us and that makes us focus harder in training. I think it’s good we’re going under the radar.”

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