Bears Women 38 Chiefs Women 21
Bristol Bears Women 38
Exeter Chiefs Women 21
Jack Lewis at Shaftsbury Park
It proved a tough at the office for Exeter Chiefs Women in their opening Allianz Premier 15s match of the new season.
Susie Appleby’s side travelled up the M5 to face Westcountry rivals Bristol Bears brimming with confidence as they looked to get their campaignoff to a winning start in the sunshine at Shaftsbury Park.
On a glorious afternoon, the stage was set for a battle between two teams who have seen a great deal of change over the off-season, both looking to generate momentum to take into the tough campaign ahead.
With both sides willing to play throughout, it was the Chiefs who held a slender 14-12 advantage at half-time, through converted tries from scrum-half Flo Robinson and lock McKinley Hunt.
Sadly, the visitors could not build on that slender lead and will be disappointed that the game ran away from them in the second half. Indeed, Appleby’s side will rue a raft of mistakes which allowed the home team easy territory and possession with the Bears pack proving dominant as the game wore on, eventually scoring six tries as they powered their way to victory.
It was the Bears who started the stronger of the two sides – flying out of the blocks straight from the kick-off to put the Chiefs defence under pressure. Initially, the Exeter line held firm, but after some concerted pressure and a slick line-out move, it was the home team who took first blood, outside centre Phoebe Murray crashing over for the game’s opening try.
Hardly the start they would have envisaged, the Chiefs continued to soak up strong Bears pressure with the North American contingent proving crucial in holding out the Bears, Kate Zackary and Emily Tuttosi at the forefront of the defensive line.
Slowly, the Chiefs began to find their rhythm and when they started to get their hands on the ball, moving through some phases of their own, they were at last able to stretch the Bears defence thin with some fast attacking play of their own.
The pressure started to tell, and a nice touch finder from Cantorna saw the Chiefs piling on the pressure, five metres from the Bristol line. From the base of a powerful scrum, Chiefs scrum-half half Robinson showed quick footwork and power to force her way over the line, Cantorna bagging the extras to restore parity.
Up and running, itwasn’t long before the Chiefs were over again. Jennine Duncan, the powerful American winger, caused the initial chaos amongst the Bristol defensive line, storming downfield to set up a fantastic attacking position. After a series of pick and go’s on the Bristol line, eventually Hunt burrowed over to score the Chiefs second try with just 20 minutes played. Another excellent conversion from Cantorna, who looked in great touch with the boot, stretched the score to 14-5 midway through the first half.
Sadly, the Chiefs lead proved short-lived as the Bears took advantage of more mistakes from the visitors. With just over ten minutes remaining in the half, the hosts reverted to their driving maul to put the Chiefs on the back foot. Despite the best efforts of the Exeter eight, they were unable to hold out their rivals, who were marshalled superbly by their summer signing in the second row, Abbie Ward. The home team rumbled over the line to bring the match to within two points at the break.
HALF TIME: BRISTOL BEARS WOMEN 12 EXETER CHIEFS WOMEN 14
Into the second half, and once again it was the Bristol pack capitalising from more Exeter mistakes. With another penalty conceded at the breakdown, it was the Bears who found themselves on the front foot - and this time some clever interplay at the front of a five metre line-out sent hooker West over in the corner.
With their early lead restored, the Bears seemed in control of the fixture, but once again it was the power of Duncan on the Exeter wing causing the home side problems. She skittled the Bristol defence with another barnstorming run, allowing the Chiefs to build pressure inside the Bears 22.
Unfortunately for the visitors, they couldn’t quite get the ball over the line, the Bears scrambling sufficiently to hold up the attack, drawing the first goal-line drop out of the new season, one of several fresh law variations in place for the new Premier 15s campaign
Appleby’s side were left to lament their missed opportunities with Bristol’s powerful driving maul marching the visiting side downfield once more. Conceding back-to-back penalties, the visitors were powerless to stop the Bears juggernaut and left the referee, Adam Wookey, with little option but to award a penalty try and issue a yellow card to Chiefs replacement Abbie Fleming.
Despite being down to 14, Appleby and her team will be delighted with how their players responded to their numerical disadvantage. Indeed, after a magnificent turnover by replacement Rachel Johnson, the Chiefs pack brought some muscle of their own, forcing Bristol back to their own goal line, before Zackary eventually powered her way over. Cantorna’s third conversion brought the Chiefs right back into the mix with the scores at 24-21 just after the hour mark.
Unfortunately, the story of the day was one of frustration, as mistakes continued to hand Bristol the advantage, and it was the Bears pack who imposed themselves as the second half wore on. Despite the best efforts of the Exeter eight, they were unable to halt the momentum of the Bristol driving line-out, which yielded two more tries in the final 10 minutes for Siwan Lillicrap and Lucy Burgess.
Appleby’s side return to Sandy Park next Sunday (2pm) as they welcome Sale Sharks Women to Devon, looking to iron out the errors from this opening match and bounce back in front of the raucous Chiefs support.
Bears: J Joyce; G Crompton, P Murray, A Reed (cc, M Webb 72), J Hesketh; E Snowsill (L Skuse 74), K Bevan (D Mayes 59); S Pam (C Kill 59), H West (R Lock 72), S Bern (S Phillips 74); N John (H Cunningham 59), A Ward (cc); A Butchers, M Johnes, S Lillicrap (D Mayes 74).
Tries: Murray, West (2), Lillicrap, Burgess; Conversions: Snowsill (3)
Chiefs: M Doidge; J Duncan, L Holland (B Bradley 59), K Kobayashi, L Sheehan (O Jones 74); G Cantorna, F Robinson; S Kato, E Tuttosi (C Nielson 57), D Menin; P Leitch (cc), M Hunt (A Fleming 57); E Jefferies, K Zackary (cc), L Van der Velden (R Johnson 30). Replacements (not used): J Thomas, M Allen, C Lewis
Tries: Robinson, Hunt, Zackary; Conversions: Cantorna (3)
Yellow Card: Fleming
Referee: A Wookey