American trio sign up for the Chiefs
By Mark Stevens
Susie Appleby’s squad plans for the new Exeter Chiefs Women’s side are continuing apace after she today confirmed the arrival of three more international names.
USA Women’s players Gabby Cantorna, Jennine Duncan and Kate Zackary have all accepted one-year contracts with the Chiefs and will arrive – pending visa approval – within the next few weeks to join the Devon club ahead of their inaugural season in the Premier 15s league.
The signings mark an important milestone for the Women’s XVs programme as a whole, as growing talent within the United States has led to an increased demand for American women within the global professional game.
Cantorna, Duncan and Zackary join the ranks of just four other players who have competed for overseas professional teams in the last Rugby World Cup cycle. Those players include Kristine Sommer, Jess Wooden and recently-retired Kimber Rozier, who played for Harlequins Ladies and Hannah Stolba who played for Rugby El Salvador.
Experienced back-row forward Zackary, 31, heads up the group of new arrivals. The current captain of the national team, she is vastly experienced, having featured for the Eagles at both 7s and 15s level.
She made her debut with the 7s side at the 2015 Atlanta Sevens and earned her first cap at 15s just a year later. During her career she has helped the United States win silver at the 2015 Pan-American Games, qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, as well as achieve two fourth-placed finishes at the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2017 and Rugby World Cup Sevens in 2018.
Winger, Duncan, 27, was first introduced to rugby by her husband who played for eight years before joining the Seattle Saracens, whose women’s team quickly recruited her into their ranks.
Having played softball and soccer for 10 years, including at the NCAA Division I level in College, Duncan focused her attentions fully to rugby, where she has made significant waves at both 7s and 15s level.
In 2018, she was named Seattle Saracens MVP, as well as earning her first cap with the Women’s Eagles 15s against England in November of that year.
Cantorna, 25, who can play fly-half or centre, picked up the game at the age of 14 as her father coaches a local high school team and her sister played at Penn State.
Her talent was clear to see as she moved through the age groups, representing the USA Under-20s between 2013-15. In 2017, she earned MVP honours in the D1 Elite National Championship final and was then selected for the Women’s Eagles Autumn internationals in November of 2018, earning her first cap against New Zealand.
Naturally, Appleby is delighted to have the trio on board ahead of the new season, stating: “These are three very good signings for us. Kate, I know very well, comes with a wealth of experience having played both 7s and 15s. She’s also the captain of the national team, so she brings great leadership qualities, which is what we are going to need especially in those early weeks of the season.
“Jennine, she’s another fantastic prospect, a prolific try-scorer, a fantastic finisher and someone who you can see will bring real energy and excitement into the back line.
“Gabby, again, is someone who we really like the look of. You can see she’s a powerful player, a great playmaker, and someone who can spot the space and put you into the right positions on the pitch.
“With all three, you can see there is not only great quality, but also experience, talent and a confidence which I think will really come through. Speaking with Rob Cain (USA National Head Coach), he’s given us a great insight into the three of them and he’s doing fantastic work in developing the game and players over in the States.
“Obviously, he knows the Premier 15s very well from his own time coaching a very successful Saracens side, so it’s great that he’s been able to assist in getting the three players over to us.”