Chiefs 14 Loughborough Lightning 7
Exeter Chiefs Women 14
Loughborough Lightning Women 7
Harry Scott-Munro at Sandy Park
It was Exeter Chiefs who were able to sweep away the winter chill as they edged past Loughborough Lightning 14-7 in a backs to the wall effort at Sandy Park.
A Laura Sheehan try, converted by Patricia Garcia had given the Chiefs the lead, before Georgina Tasker’s converted score levelled the game up at the break.
The second half proved to be just as tight, but a fine try by Ebony Jefferies, again converted by Garcia, ultimately secured the win as the Chiefs defence managed to withstand the Loughborough bombardment.
With the Chiefs returning to Allianz Premier 15s action for the first time in almost seven weeks, both teams struggled in the opening exchanges as the freezing conditions made it difficult for either side to maintain possession of the ball.
The hosts had their chances, playing into the wind, but will be disappointed not to have converted their early territory into points. Loughborough, though, were a force to be reckoned with in the tight, as they continued to ask questions of the Chiefs defence.
Each time, however, the Chiefs were up to the task, thanks in part to the phenomenal individual performance of flanker Jefferies.
In a game of fine margins, Susie Appleby’s stole a march on the visitors at scrum-time, something that proved crucial in the final outcome, as the front-row continued to secure penalties for their side.
With that forward dominance, the Chiefs tried multiple times to hammer through the Loughborough defence, Sachiko Kato and Laura Delgado providing the same forward momentum they have done for their side time and time again this season.
For all of Exeter’s industry though, it took until the 18th minute for the first score of the afternoon. With the hosts continuing to pound away at the Loughborough line, No.8 Kate Zackary managed to free her arms in contact, offloading to winger Sheehan for an easy run-in.
Garcia converted the try, but Loughborough were to respond quickly. After regaining possession from the restart, the visitors spread the ball left and right in search of a gap in the Chiefs defence, with Helena Rowland and Helen Nelson leading the attack.
Eventually, it was Nelson who found the space in the defence, as the centre fed Tasker on her inside, the outside centre bursting through the gap in the defence and just having the legs to make it to the line. Nelson then converted to leave the match tied up after 25 minutes.
With not much time left on the clock, the Chiefs – who had controlled large part of the first half – continued their assault on the Loughborough line with the visitors unable to escape from their own 22. However, a handling error bought proceedings to a close, as Loughborough elected to kick the ball into touch and relieve the pressure on their line.
HALF-TIME: EXETER CHIEFS 7 LOUGHBOROUGH LIGHTNING 7
At half-time, Appleby called upon her bench to add some additional firepower, as Canadian front-row trio Olivia De Merchant, Emily Tuttosi and DaLeaka Menin all entered the fray. And those changes looked to have had the desired effect as the Chiefs continued their dominance upfront to slowly suck the life out of the Loughborough pack.
It was from a scrum penalty that the Devonians secured the position from which their second try swiftly followed too. After another cleanly taken lineout, the Chiefs looked to carry hard around the fringes, before Garcia found Jefferies with an inch-perfect pass. From there, it was all about the carrying ability of the flanker, as she burst through Rowland’s attempted tackle to race clear under the posts, much to the delight of the home crowd.
Although back in front, Exeter’s ill-discipline continued to allow the visitors to camp themselves within the Chiefs half for much of the rest of the match, but the defensive effort from Appleby’s side was one that repeatedly got them out of jail.
On at least five occasions, Loughborough were able to set rolling mauls within five metres of the Exeter line, only for the work of the Chiefs pack to secure a crucial turnover. Those turnovers only served as small moments of respite for the Chiefs defence though, as Loughborough continued to hammer away within the Exeter 22.
With a little under ten minutes of the match left, flanker Maisy Allen saw yellow, as the referee finally ran out of patience with the Chiefs at the breakdown. The Chiefs sacrificed centre Merryn Doidge to make sure they kept eight forwards on the park – and it was certainly a decision that paid off from the coaching staff as the additional bulk in the pack for the Chiefs continued to halt Loughborough’s charge.
It’s an old adage that defence is the best form of attack, but it couldn’t be more of a true reflection of this match, as Exeter’s defence marched Loughborough back nearly thirty metres, before a fumble in midfield from hosts drew the full-time whistle from the referee.
Exeter Chiefs: C Rollie; J Detiveaux; M Doidge (A. Fleming 71), N McGillivray; L Sheehan; F Robinson, P Garcia; S Kato (O De Merchant 40), C Nielson (E Tuttosi 40), L Delgado (D Menin 40); P Leitch, L Van der Velden; E Jefferies, M Allen, K Zackary. Replacements (not used): N Fryday, E Sinclair, B Bradley, G Mackinder
Tries: Sheehan, Jefferies; Conversions: Garcia (2)
Yellow Card: Allen
Loughborough Lightning: F Goldthorp; G Lingham; G Tasker, H Nelson; M Gaffney; H Rowland, J Maxwell (J Weaver 62); D Harper, L Davies (B Field 73), C Belisle (K Trevarthen 62); E Wassell, I Antwis (L Ives Campion 65); S Svoboda (M Meuller 40), S Kabeya, R Malcolm. Replacements (not used): I Curphey, H Dodd, I Alejandro
Try: Tasker; Conversion: Nelson
Referee: A. Wookey