Chiefs 47 Lightning 15
Exeter Chiefs Women 47
Loughborough Lightning Women 15
Harry Scott-Munro at Sandy Park
Exeter Chiefs put themselves in the best possible position to qualify for the last four in the Allianz Cup, as they produced an assured second half to eventually dispatch a valiant Loughborough Lightning side 47-15 at Sandy Park.
A tight first half saw the Chiefs lead through tries from Hope Rogers and McKinley Hunt, although in the second half, they were able to stretch their legs thanks to another try from Hunt and further scores from Kate Zackary, Emily Tuttosi and a double from Ebony Jefferies. Patricia Garcia and Meg Foster added four and two conversions respectively to seal the victory.
On a sun-kissed afternoon at Sandy Park, the big selections for Susie Appleby’s side saw the return from long-term injury for Brooke Bradley and Gabby Cantorna. Appleby named an experienced side for this one, but it was the visitors who started the strongest, with the youthful exuberance of their side coming to the fore.
With the likes of Taufoou and Duguid both making valuable metres for their side, the Chiefs seemed slightly shell-shocked by the physicality that the visitors were exerting on the match. The Chiefs were guilty in the opening exchanges of not making the most of their opportunities, with several missed penalties to touch.
Loughborough, though, made no mistake in making the Chiefs pay and deservedly opened the scoring through hooker Bryony Field as they trundled over from a rolling maul. The visitors had been showing an adventurous side in the opening exchanges, but this try came from route one.
Exeter though were quick to hit back, as Loughborough failed to successfully gather the restart. Whist the hands weren’t quite as crisp as the Chiefs would have hoped for, they were able to rely on the brute strength of the front row and in particular Rogers, as the American powered over from close range to secure an instant response for her side.
The Chiefs were now looking to up the tempo and the momentum, with Linde van der Velden and Hunt both showing a physical side to their game with several rambunctious carries to leave the Loughborough defence scrambling. Disappointingly though for the hosts, handling again would let them down.
Loughborough were growing in confidence now and looking to build momentum. With nothing to lose, the Midlands side looked to throw caution to the wind, and to some effect. Fly-half Grace White had been impressive in the opening half and, her inch-perfect cross-field kick was collected by the onrushing Amy Pyle. The wing was able to superbly gather the ball at pace, weaving inside the final tackler to skate in from halfway and retake the lead for her side.
The Chiefs were in desperate need of a response and again, loose hands at the restart from Loughborough gifted the hosts an attacking opportunity.
Again, they would make no mistake with the present gifted to them, as the pack looked to keep it tight and build the phases. With Eilidh Sinclair and Olivia Jones both looking to stretch their legs, the second try again came from the direct route, as a series of carries from the pack eventually wore down the resilient Loughborough defence.
With Bradley increasing the pace from scrum-half, Hunt eventually managed to burst through a tackle to cross under the posts, with Garcia’s conversion edging her side into the lead.
HALF-TIME: EXETER CHIEFS 12 LOUGHBOROUGH LIGHTNING 10
Straight from the restart, the Chiefs re-emerged with a renewed intensity and vigour, as they looked to take the game away from the visitors.
Whilst an early line-out went awry, Exeter were in no mood to let the opportunity slip, as the pack kept it tight and built valuable metres, allowing Hunt to eventually dive over for her second of the afternoon.
Loughborough would hit back immediately, as Georgie Lingham scored a counter-attacking try. Amanda Swartz gathered a long clearance kick, the full-back turned on the gas to burst through in midfield, before swinging the ball wide to Lingham, who just had the legs to race over out wide.
As in the first half though, the Chiefs response was an immediate one. The try came though thanks to the defensive work of Jones, as she charged down White and pressured the fly-half into carrying the ball back over her own try line. From the resulting scrum, the Chiefs turned the screw, allowing co-captain Zackary to wrestle over from close range.
That try seemed to finally burst the Loughborough bubble, as the Chiefs began to turn the screw. It was the added physicality at the breakdown that was allowing the Chiefs to build momentum and, when the ball was kicked into the corner from a penalty, there was only ever going to be one outcome, as replacement Tuttosi dived over from the back of the maul.
Whilst the passing was still not quite as crisp as the side would have liked, Exeter continued to press and move the Loughborough defence around the park.
With Meg Davies adding a renewed zip off the bench, the Chiefs upped the speed of play again, as Loughborough were left scrambling. Garcia had now moved to inside centre with the arrival of Foster onto the field and, with both playmakers kicking into space, Loughborough were routinely stuck in behind, as they searched for a way out of defence.
With little over ten minutes to go, Exeter would score again, as Jefferies scored her first. The flanker had threatened to break through the Loughborough defence on several occasions in the match already and this time, the dam finally burst. With the flanker picking the ball up out wide, she dummied Bo Westcombe-Evans, before showing a clean pair of heels to sprint in under the posts from twenty metres.
Loughborough would look to press again, in search of a bonus point score, but it would be the Chiefs who had the final say, as Jefferies scored her second right on the stroke of fulltime.
This was a trademark Chiefs try as well, after replacement Jennine Detiveaux had powered into the Loughborough 22. With the pack keeping it tight and edging ever closer to the line, Jefferies spotted a gap to stretch an arm out over the line, with Foster’s conversion sealing a big victory for the Chiefs.
Exeter will know they need to sharpen up on handling heading into next weekend’s clash with Saracens, but this was a significant victory in the Cup and one that put the side in the best possible position to secure qualification into the semi-finals ahead of Saturday’s clash at the Stone-X Stadium.
Chiefs: M Doidge; E Sinclair (J Detiveaux 56); K Kobayashi, G Cantorna (M Foster 59); O Jones; P Garcia, B Bradley (M Davies 69); H Rogers (L Hanlon 69), C Nielson (E. Tuttosi 46), L Delgado (D Menin 46); M Hunt (C Willett 69), L van der Velden (G Senft 66); E Jefferies, P Leitch (co-capt), K Zackary (co-capt)
Tries: Rogers, Hunt (2), Zackary, Tuttosi, Jefferies (2); Conversions: Garcia (4), Foster (2)
Lightning: A Swartz (E Luthayi 74); A Pyle; B Mataitoga, E Hardy; G Lingham (B Westcombe-Evans 63); G White, J Weaver (A Relf 63); D Harper (capt, I Curphy 58), B Field (B Fowler 71), C Jacoby (G Bourke 58); C Holtkamp, A Duguid (I Antwis 66); K Trevarthen (N Oyeka 69), H Taufoou, S Svobdoa
Tries: Field, Pyle, Lingham
Referee: J Milliner-Woodcock