Premier 15s side Loughborough Lightning have linked up with Premiership club Northampton Saints to create a joint women’s club team.
Loughborough Lightning will keep their name but, in a significant move in the development of the women’s game, they will wear shirts bearing Saints’ crest.
Saints’ Franklin’s Gardens home will also host several Lightning fixtures.
Northampton say that at least three matches will be staged at Franklin’s Gardens this season.
Saints, who will be backing Loughborough financially, had faced pressure to create their own women’s team.
“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 Saints chief executive Mark Darbon.
“This partnership provides the perfect opportunity for us to do so. 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 Lightning have reached the semi-finals for the past two completed seasons, losing to Harlequins in 2019 and Saracens earlier this year.
Loughborough and England duo Sarah Hunter and Emily Scarratt have been appointed as Saints’ women’s rugby ambassadors in a bid to boost playing numbers.