Chiefs 76 DMP Sharks 5
Exeter Chiefs Women 76
DMP Durham Sharks Women 5
Harry Scott-Munro at Sandy Park
Exeter Chiefs turned on the style as they romped to their biggest-ever victory in the Allianz Premier 15s, thrashing visiting DMP Durham Sharks 76-5 at Sandy Park.
Winger Louise Burgess – on her first start for the club – led the way, scoring 4 of their 12 tries in total. Also on the mark were Kate Zackary, Rachel Johnson (2) Merryn Doidge (2) Niamh Terry, Taylor Black and Gabby Cantorna, the latter also bagging eight conversions.
Glorious sunny conditions greeted both sides at Sandy Park with the firm ground providing a perfect track for some running rugby.
International call-ups and injuries forced head coach Susie Appleby into a reshuffle of her match-day side. Burgess started on the right wing with Lottie Holland ruled out through injury, while American forward Johnson also started for the first time at openside flanker, with club captain Linde Van der Velden away on international duty. On the bench, there was a return from injury for Michaella Roberts, alongside young backs Gabby Gower and Olivia Churcher who were named in the match-day side for the first time.
For DMP, they made just one change to their starting XV from last weekend’s 47-0 defeat to Sale Sharks, as Elissa Jennings started in place of Amy Layzell at scrum-half.
Last time the Chiefs faced DMP, they took a while to get going, as the side eventually worked their way into a comfortable winning margin. There was little sign of those cobwebs from the off here though, as Chiefs raced out of the traps, Zackary crossing for her seventh of the season after just two minutes following a sweeping backs move.
DMP’s job was made even more difficult following that score, as influential centre Beth Blacklock was forced off the field with an arm injury in the build-up to the try.
Chiefs weren’t in the mood to show any mercy though and they pounced again minutes later, Johnson crossing after international team-mate Cantorna had sent her through a gap in the DMP defence.
DMP had their moments though and asked several questions of the Chiefs defence. Inaccuracy, though, proved to be their downfall and allowed the hosts to continue their rampant attacking play. A third score was to follow soon after, as Burgess crossed for her first after another flowing backs move.
The bonus point score came with just 20 minutes on the clock, scrum-half Flo Robinson with some neat footwork down the blindside, feeding full-back Doidge to race in under the posts; another to notch her first try for the club.
The good times kept on coming for the Chiefs, with Burgess adding her second moments later. Playing with a penalty advantage, Cantorna sensed space out wide and put in a precise cross-field kick for the winger to gather and score.
She would secure her hat-trick with five minutes of the first half remaining too, Ebony Jefferies drawing the last player to send the winger over the line, in the process, becoming the first-ever Exeter Chiefs women to score a treble for the club.
There was just enough time for a seventh score before the break, Terry crossing after Olivia DeMerchant pounced on a loose pass from a beleaguered DMP backline. Cantorna’s five conversion of the afternoon took Chiefs out to a comprehensive lead at the break.
HALF-TIME: EXETER CHIEFS 45 DMP DURHAM SHARKS 0
It was a case of more of the same for the Chiefs after the break, as, just three minutes after the restart, fly-half Black spotted a gap and waltzed through the weary defence to bring up the half century for her side, following another flowing move from the backs.
Pre-game Appleby had challenged her side during the week to have confidence in the layers of their attacking game and you could see the fruits of their labour in this performance.
It didn’t take long until they were over the whitewash again, Doidge crossing for her second of the afternoon after DMP were caught narrow in defence and the ball was worked wide.
Just ten minutes into the second half, Chiefs had hit 60, as Burgess crossed for her fourth of the afternoon. Crisp handling from Garnet Mackinder and Poppy Leitch drew in the defence, allowing Burgess to run in unopposed, Cantorna converting to take her side’s total to 62.
After the hectic start to the second half, DMP grew into the game and deserve huge credit for the way they applied themselves to their task. With Exeter guilty of some sloppy handling in the red zone and ill-discipline in defence, the visitors worked their way into the Chiefs 22 and crossed for a well-deserved try through replacement prop Emily Turner, after several powerful carries from their pack. They continued to ask questions of the Chiefs at times, with several innovative plays in the middle of the park, using their front row players as pivots.
Chiefs though were to have the final say in the sun, with two tries in the final five minutes.
First, Cantorna crossed for her first try of the season after a sniping break from replacement scrum-half Meg Davies, whose offload was met by Cantorna at pace to crash over.
Right on full-time, Chiefs crossed for their twelve and final try. After a huge fend from debutant Gabby Gower took her to within inches of a debut try, Johnson eventually added her second of the afternoon, as the pack finally got an opportunity to display their power close to the try-line, dotting down from close range. Cantorna’s superb conversion from out wide was the cherry on top to proceedings, as Chiefs secured their biggest victory of the season and made it six wins on the bounce.
Chiefs will know that tougher tests await them, but this was another important victory as they continue to make waves in their debut season. Next week’s encounter with Wasps will be a huge test of Appleby’s side’s development but for now, today’s victory keeps them firmly in the hunt for an elusive play-off place.
Chiefs: M Doidge, L Burgess (G Gower 64) N Terry (M Davies 46,) G. Cantorna, G Mackinder (capt, O Churcher 64); T Black, F Robinson; O DeMerchant (M Roberts 50,) E Tuttosi (J Kitlinski 44,) S Kato (K Armstrong 64); P Leitch, M Hunt (A Fleming 35); E Jefferies (D French 35) R Johnson, K Zackary
Tries: Zackary, Johnson (2), Burgess (4), Doidge (2), Terry, Black, Cantorna; Conversions: Cantorna (8)
Sharks: S Shams (C Cookland 50); R Blount, J Cooksey, B Blacklock (A Layzell 2) H Thorpe (L Torley 49); J Dadds, E Jennings; C Simpson (E Hunter 50) A Bainbridge (Z Teece 52) S Herrick (B Churm 39); J Hazell, J Weisheu (O McCallion 4); T Gordon (I Keirl 48) M Picut, T Churm
Referee: L Davies