Chiefs Women 29 Bristol Bears Women 26

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Eilidh Sinclair celebrates a Try for the Exeter Chiefs

Exeter Chiefs Women 29

Bristol Bears 26

Harry Scott-Munro at Sandy Park

It may have been Superhero Saturday at Sandy Park, but Exeter Chiefs women delivered their very own Houdini act, to wrestle victory away from Bristol Bears and set up a repeat encounter next weekend in the Allianz Premier 15s semi-finals.

Regardless of other results, the Chiefs knew that a victory of any kind would secure second place in the league and crucial home advantage for this Saturday's last four showdown.

The Bears though, had designs on the home advantage themselves and in a see-saw game, tries from Sarah Bern, Grace Crompton, Courtney Keight and Lucy Burgess threatened to dampen the party-like atmosphere at Sandy Park.

With the game ebbing and flowing either way, the Chiefs would eventually hold on, thanks in the main to doubles from Jennine Detiveaux and further scores from Emily Tuttosi and Rachel Johnson sealing the win, alongside a pair of Gabby Cantorna conversions.

Ahead of kick-off, Head Coach Susie Appleby kept the faith with the same 23 that powered past Saracens last weekend, as she hoped that continuity would see her side through.

Perhaps understandably, the pressure of what was at stake seemed to be getting to both sides in the early exchanges, as handling errors crept into the game from the early moments.

Whilst it was the Bears who had the upper hand in the opening moments, with Rownita Marston and Hannah West looking threatening with ball in hand, the Chiefs are no strangers to creating something from nothing.

The first opening saw the Chiefs rumble forward into the Bears 22, but they were caught out by Bristol’s refusal to engage at the maul, with a knock-on halting the Chiefs charge.

They wouldn’t have to wait long though open the scoring, with Patricia Garcia releasing Detiveaux on halfway. Channelling her inner Flash, the USA Eagle raced away, bumping off several would-be tacklers to crash over in the corner.

It remained tight and cagey at Sandy Park with both sides throwing the kitchen sink at each other. As the Bears looked to launch a counterattack from deep, Amber Reed’s pass to Courtney Keight drifted forwards, gifting the Chiefs with another attacking opportunity. They would squander the opportunity though, as again, poor handling and indecision came back to haunt them.

The fluidity of recent weeks seemed to be lacking for the Chiefs, but what wasn’t was the abrasive edge of the pack. Like Thor wielding Mjölnir, they were proving themselves worthy, as they repeatedly turned the screw on the Bears pack, to rescue several dangerous situations for their side.

But it was to be the Bears who struck back next, as Grace Crompton found space on the far side, to wriggle over and level proceedings. With Amber Reed’s conversion, it was all change in the play-off picture, as the Bears now sat in second place.


Exeter would hit back again though, with Detiveaux grabbing her second, as the play-off picture changed again. Whilst her first score had seen her channel The Flash, this one saw her do her best Mr Fantastic impression, as she stretched her arms as far as she could, to latch onto Garcia’s delicate kick through to dot down.

The opportunity came though, thanks to an electric break from Eilidh Sinclair, with the Scottish international seemingly teleporting from outside the Bears 22 to within reach of the try line, such was the speed at which she attacked the line.

Cantorna again was unable to convert from out wide, but just when Exeter needed to show composure heading into half-time, they let the ball bounce from the restart and gave up possession to the Bears.

With the concession of a penalty at the line-out, the Bears looked to hammer away at the try line, eventually finding their way over through Sarah Bern, with Reed again converting to leave the Chiefs chasing the lead again heading into the second half.


Straight from the restart, there was a renewed intensity from the Chiefs, as they searched for the score to take them back into the lead. Whilst the phase play hadn’t quite worked in the first half, it was showing signs of clicking into gear here, with Hope Rogers barrelling up towards the Bristol try line. The Chiefs were held up over the line though, as the Bears threw everything they had at the defensive effort.


Eventually though, the Chiefs would snatch back the lead, through Captain America herself Kate Zackary. With Rogers again at the forefront of the good work, her international compatriot eventually found her way over the line from close range, with Cantorna converting.

The Chiefs were living dangerously but doing enough as it stood to take that home semi-final berth. The game was ebbing and flowing more than a Hollywood blockbuster now, as the Bears looked to hit back again.

Again, it came from the wide channels, with the ball fizzed wide to Keight, who powered her way over to snatch back the lead again. Crucially, Reed missed the conversion, but the Bears were back in the lead and, with Harlequins losing, they were also sitting in second place.

Whilst the play may not have been as free flowing as either side would like, the tension was certainly building. With the discipline from Bristol beginning to falter, Exeter were able to kick their way into the Bears 22, setting up another driving opportunity.

The first line-out may have been collapsed by the Bears, but the Chiefs refused to let that derail their charge. With the handling not quite working as it should, the Chiefs had little problem with sticking the ball up the jumper and, to great effect.

There was no mistake from Tuttosi, as she got her hands on the ball and dotted down, with Cantorna adding the extras from out wide to put her side back into the lead, with fifteen minutes to go.

Both sides had been going score for score throughout the match, but this time, it was the Chiefs who crucially added a fifth try.

With the Bears down to thirteen, after Keight had seen yellow for a deliberate knock-on and Marston had swiftly followed her for a high tackle, Chiefs made the most of the advantage, with Zackary dotting down from the back of the maul.

Cantorna’s conversion gave her side a 10-point lead and with it, some much-needed breathing space heading into the final few moments.

Exeter though, weren’t making it easy for themselves and lost Laura Delgado to a red card for a high tackle on Crompton.

The Bears were still in the hunt though and, when Burgess raced through under the posts, it set up a grandstand finish.

Heading for a showdown of Captain America Civil War proportions, with the home semi-final on the line, it was the Chiefs who held on, much to the relief of Appleby and the vociferous home support, to set up a repeat encounter in next weekend’s semi-final, back at Sandy Park.

If today’s encounter was anything to go by, next weekend’s semi-final is set to be a full-blooded encounter, with a place in the Allianz Premier 15s final at stake.

Exeter Chiefs: M Doidge; E Sinclair (N Terry 71 M. Roberts 74); K Kobayashi, G Cantorna; J Detiveaux; P Garcia, F Robinson; H Rogers (L Delgado 71), E Tuttosi, D Menin; M Hunt (E Jefferies 68), L van der Velden (N Fryday 58); P Leitch (co-capt), R Johnson, K Zackary (co-capt). Replacements (not used): C Nielson, B Bradley, N McGillivray

Tries: Detiveaux (2), Tuttosi, Zackary (2); Conversions: Cantorna (2)

Red Card: Delgado

Bristol Bears: K Powell; G Crompton (E Lovibond 72); P Murray, A Reed; C Keight; L Skuse (E Snowsill 54), K Bevan (L Burgess 54); S Pam (C Kill 73), H West (H Phillips 72), S Bern (E Mulhearn 55); D Burns (S Lillicrap 64), A Ward; A Butchers (A Lockwood 72), M Johnes, R Marston

Tries: Bern, Crompton, Keight, Burgess; Conversions: Reed (3)

Yellow Cards: Murray, Marston

Referee: A Wookey

Attendance: 2,657

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