American quartet agree new deals

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American quartet Jennine Duncan, Gabby Cantorna, Kate Zackary and Rachel Johnson have all agree new deals with the Exeter Chiefs Women's team

By Mark Stevens

Susie Appleby’s planning for the new Allianz Premier 15s season has been handed a major boost with the news that four of her internationals stars are returning to Sandy Park.

American quartet Gabby Cantorna, Jennine Duncan, Rachel Johnson and Kate Zackary have all agreed new terms with the Exeter Chiefs for the 2021/22 campaign.

All four played their part in helping establish the Devon club as a growing force within the women’s game during their maiden outing in the top flight. Cantorna finished the season as the club’s leading points-scorer with 85 points, whilst back-row forwards Zackary (7) and Johnson (6) shared 13 tries between them.

Sadly, winger Duncan was restricted to just two appearances after she picked up a serious hamstring injury. However, she did show in those games glimpses of what she is capable of.

The news that all four players will be donning the Chiefs jersey again this season is a major boost for Appleby, who has already hinted many of last season’s squad are likely to follow suit in committing their futures to the club.

“We’re expecting the girls to arrive shortly,” said Appleby. “All of them have been in the USA training camp for a month and are looking in great shape. I’ve been chatting with Rob Cain (the USA national coach) and he’s really impressed with the form they’ve shown and the development they’ve made since being with us.

“He loves the fact they are playing regularly and are very much part and parcel of our programme here. In what is a big year for a lot of the girls because it’s the Rugby World Cup, it’s fantastic that we can have that quality come back into our squad and really push to move us forward even further.”

Both Cantorna and Zackary were ever-present for the Chiefs, who finished in sixth spot, but who during the course of the season beat the top four - at least once -Loughborough Lightning, Wasps, Saracens and champions Harlequins.

“As I said, I’m really looking forward to welcoming the girls back here,” added Appleby. “Jennine had a really tough year with her injury, but she was so excited to come back and she’s like a race horse primed and ready to go again.

“Kate was imperious for us last season. She’s an amazing player, who just got better and better as the season went on. Even though we had to move her around at times, including playing in the centre, she just got on with the job and really lead from the front.

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Exeter Chiefs Women's Head Coach Susie Appleby

“Again, Gabby was very much like Kate in that she just improved by the week. Her game understanding, her goal kicking, her all-round play, she was a real star for us in that back division. I’ve seen that she has been running a bit at 10 over in the States and that may well be a position where she features for us this season.

“Finally, what an impact Rachel had with us. She didn’t join us until Christmas, but wow didn’t she make up for that lost time. Her performances were outstanding from the moment she arrived and again we’re expecting big things from here moving forward.”

Appleby is expected to announce more re-signing news in the coming days, as well as the arrival of at least a couple of new faces for the upcoming league programme.

The Chiefs Women kick-off their new season with a friendly against Wasps at Sandy Park on Saturday, August 21 (2pm). Entry to the game is free of charge, but you must book tickets through the club’s official ticketing hub.

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