Bears Women 27 Chiefs 31
Bristol Bears Women 27
Exeter Chiefs Women 31
Harry Scott-Munro at Shaftesbury Park
Exeter Chiefs Women made it back-to-back wins in the Allianz Premier 15s as they welcomed in the New Year with victory on the road against Westcountry rivals Bristol Bears.
Having ended 2020 with a resounding 38-0 victory at home to Sale Sharks, Susie Appleby’s side dug deep to record another maximum haul at Shaftesbury Park.
Tries from Linde van der Velden, Ebony Jefferies, Laura Delgado, Emily Tuttosi and Garnet Mackinder provided the main highlights, while American centre Gabby Cantorna weighed in with three conversions for the visitors, who had to play a large part of the second half with 14 players following the dismissal of Patricia Garcia for a dangerous tackle.
Exeter’s win not only helped them to avenge their earlier defeat by the Bears, but catapulted them into the top five in the division and provided a real fillip ahead of their upcoming clash against high-flying Harlequins at Sandy Park.
Much has changed since the Chiefs last took to the field, although there were still many similarities on matchday, namely the consistency of Appleby’s team selection and the freezing British weather that greeted both teams as they took to the field.
Appleby named an unchanged starting line up from her side’s last match – with the two changes to the squad coming on the bench, as international pair Rachel Johnson and Laura Sheehan got their first taste of what it means to be a Chief after signing over the New Year period.
The opening exchanges were a scrappy affair, with both teams failing to find touch from early penalties. It was Chiefs though who were to unlock the Bears defence first. After an initial break from Garcia, the visitors looked to camp themselves on the Bears line, only to lose the ball in contact.
Moments later, fly-half Taylor Black found McKinley Hunt with a superb offload, the second-row galloped clear before feeding Garcia. The scrum-half looked to be in, before a heroic, last-gasp tackle from Kayleigh Powell stripped the ball in contact.
On six minutes, though, the Chiefs eventually got the reward for their physical start as from a scrum penalty, captain van der Velden crashed over.
As with the game earlier in the season, the Bears were quick to respond, speedster Jasmine Joyce showing her speed and agility to score a wonderful try from halfway, after the ball had been worked wide to her. Elinor Snowsill converted to leave the scores tied.
One try soon became two for the home side as the Bears were gifted a second score midway through the half. With the Chiefs camped on the Bears 22, a loose pass was intercepted by Joyce who raced away from the defenders to score her second and open up a 14-7 advantage.
In a frenetic encounter, Chiefs were to strike next as the lively Jefferies scored her first for the club. After picking a brilliant line, the young flanker burst through, stepping the final defender to score under the posts, Cantorna’s conversion levelling proceedings.
Chiefs were to gift the Bears an advantage again straight from the restart, as Snowsill converted a penalty after the visitors were penalised for not releasing.
Appleby, though, had challenged her side to show their resilience and they did in spades throughout the match. Indeed, they made sure they were to go into half time ahead when Spanish prop Delgado scored her side’s third try off the back of a menacing break from Cantorna.
HALF-TIME: BRISTOL BEARS 17-19 EXETER CHIEFS
The second half began in the same frenetic manner as the first, with the Bears coming out of the traps flying. An early penalty miss from Snowsill did little to calm Chiefs nerves before the main talking point of the match.
On 43 minutes, Joyce slipped several tackles and accelerated into Garcia’s attempted tackle, causing her to flip over the Spaniard’s head and land awkwardly. After some deliberation between the officials, the referee was left with little choose but to issue a red card.
With the numerical advantage, the Bears hit the front, Joyce completing her hat-trick as she darted away from several poor tackles to race over from 20 metres.
Exeter, though, stuck to their task, continuing to play with the same physicality and intensity that has propelled them up the table in recent weeks. They responded quickly though, the outstanding Tuttosi driving over from the back of a rolling maul on fifty-five minutes; Cantorna’s impressive conversion from a tight angle restoring a two-point lead.
The ding-dong nature of the game continued aplenty as once more the Chiefs gifted the Bears the lead after being penalised for holding on, Snowsill edging her side into a 27-26 lead with time ticking away.
With the game deep into the final quarter, the Chiefs rallied once more. Using a line-out, which had been superb all afternoon, they slowly rolled its way infield, driving to within inches of the Bears line. Despite the desperation of the coaching staff for their side to keep it tight, Exeter threw caution to the wind, spinning the ball wide to Mackinder.
Still with plenty to do, the winger somehow produced a stunning, one-handed finish to give her side a 31-27 lead. It was vintage stuff from the Exeter winger, who used her vast experience to the full to ensure a hard-fought triumph.
With minutes left on the clock, Chiefs continued to control the ball, easing down time on the clock and working their way back into the Bears 22. After a quick time check with the officials, the ball was booted into touch for a brilliant bonus-point win that keeps the pressure on Gloucester-Hartpury in the table.
If ever a performance was to encapsulate all that it means to play for Exeter Chiefs, this was it; as every player performed resolutely in a hugely entertaining, backs to the wall victory.
Bristol Bears: K Powell; L Stoeger-Goddard, P Murray, L Skuse, J Joyce; E Snowsill, L Burgess (S Settembri 52); S Pam (M Wynne 61) A Lockwood, S Bern (S Evans 35); H Cunningham, N John (M Boyd 35) A Butchers; M Johnes, S Lillicrap (M Barwick 63). Replacements (not used): C Jones, A Cole
Tries: Joyce (3); Conversions: Snowsill (3); Penalties: Snowsill (2)
Exeter Chiefs: M Doidge; L Holland, L Cattell (F Robinson 47) G Cantorna, G Mackinder; T Black, P Garcia; S Kato, E Tuttosi, L Delgado (O DeMerchant 47); P Leitch, M Hunt; E Jefferies, K Zackary, L van der Velden (capt). Replacements (not used): D French, M Roberts, A Fleming, R Johnson, L Sheehan, N Terry
Tries: Van der Velden, Jefferies, Delgado, Tuttosi, Mackinder; Conversions: Cantorna (3)
Red Card: Garcia
Referee: N O’Donnell