Chiefs Women 28 Bristol Women 24

detiveaux bears.jpg

Exeter Chiefs Women 28

Bristol Bears 24

Harry Scott-Munro at Sandy Park
Sometimes you just feel it’s written in the stars. Well, it was Exeter Chiefs’ star-spangled winger who proved the hero, as a late Jennine Detiveaux try secured her side a date with destiny at Sixways.

In a repeat of last weekend’s clash with Bristol Bears, this was another pulsating encounter that ebbed and flowed, with the victor not decided until the very last second.

The Chiefs raced into an early 21-0 lead, as Gabby Cantorna converted a Hope Rogers double and a further score Linde van der Velden. Coincidentally, the Dutch women’s try was her side’s 100th of a quite remarkable season.

As with last weekend though, the Bears hit back, with Hannah West and Keira Bevan reducing the deficit before halftime. In the second half, West scored her second to cut the deficit, before Murray put her side into the lead with five minutes left on the clock.

The Chiefs though refused to give in, as they kept hold of the ball, working their way up the field and allowing Detiveaux to crash over out wide.

There was still time for more drama though, as the Chiefs were forced to defend for their lives with the clock well in the red, but a stunning defensive effort from the pack secured the turnover, to spark scenes of wild celebration, both on the pitch and in the stands.

Ahead of kick-off, Susie Appleby had challenged her side to react to the pressure of a semi-final and she made one change to her starting XV, as Irish captain Nichola Fryday came into side, with McKinley hunt providing tight five cover on the bench.

The Bears arrived at Sandy Park hellbent on spoiling the party and reaching their first final of the Premier 15s era. Dave Ward himself was forced into a tactical reshuffle, with Jenny Hesketh and Siwan Lillicrap coming the side.

Roared on by a boisterous crowd of over 2500 again at Sandy Park, the Chiefs rode the initial Bristol pressure, as they hassled and harried their opponents with the same verve and vigour, they showed against Saracens a fortnight previous.

After drawing an error from the Bears back, the Chiefs showed their attacking mettle, as they careered through the Bristol defence to set up an attacking position just a few metres out. The ball was swung wide to Merryn Doidge who was hauled down inches short, but the Chiefs kept their composure, to allow Rogers to crash over from close range.

Cantorna added the extras from out wide, to make it the perfect start for the Chiefs and from there, they only accelerated into the match.

With the Chiefs pack on the charge and winning scrums against the head, Susie Appleby’s side were continuing to assert their dominance in the early exchanges, as the Bears struggled to live with the relentless speed of the Exeter attack.


The second score swiftly followed, and unsurprisingly, it came from the pack. As Rogers again muscled her way up to the line, it was left to van der Velden to reach out her frame and dot down, with Cantorna again adding the extras.

Bristol needed a response and they thought they had found it when a lapse in discipline from the Chiefs allowed Amber Reed to kick her side into the Exeter 22, but the defence held firm, with the diminutive Patricia Garcia popping up with a crucial turnover for her side.

That let-off seemed to spur the Chiefs on again, as they scored their third try of the match shortly after, with Rogers grabbing her second of the afternoon from close range. The US Eagle has been supreme for the Chiefs since arriving in January, and this score kept up her incredible record of averaging a try per game since arriving in the Westcountry.

Bristol though, were to hit back quickly as this semi-final took its first twist of the afternoon. With Exeter’s lack of discipline at the breakdown allowing Reed to kick into the corner, it was the Bears’ turn now to play the Chiefs at their own game, as West bundled the ball over from the maul to get her side back into the match. Crucially though, Reed’s conversion drifted wide.

The momentum was well and truly with the Bears now, as they continued to find openings and space in the Chiefs defence. After some offloading that the backline would have been proud of from Simi Pam and Abbie Ward, the Bears again found themselves deep in the Chiefs 22.

Penalties were becoming an issue now for Susie Appleby’s side and when another one went against them at the breakdown, the Bears were back in a position to score again. With the Chiefs fearing the threat of the driving maul, a clever switch-up in play from Siwan Lillicrap allowed the number 8 to feed scrum half Bevan to scoot over in the corner, leaving the match finely poised at halftime.


After an initial period of dominance for the Chiefs at the start of the first half, the second could not have started more differently, as Bristol raced out of the blocks, looking to haul themselves back into the contest.


On the charge, the Bears looked like they had created a try scoring opportunity, only for Kayleigh Powell’s pass to drift forward and, from there, the Chiefs set about upping the ante themselves, as captain fantastic Kate Zackary broke free from the back of the scrum, leaving Bristol’s players sprawled as they looked to keep pace wit her. After weaving past Powell, she was eventually hauled to ground but the Chiefs kept the momentum going, as Poppy Leitch and Rogers combined to take play deep inside the Bears 22.

Exeter were rampant now in this phase of attack and, after a muscular carry from Rachel Johnson, they looked for all money to be over, only for some last-gasp defence from Sarah Bern to deny the Chiefs the score.

The pressure was mounting now, and Exeter were nearly in again moments later. Rogers was again at the heart of the initial break, as Detiveaux released her down the wing but for the second time in as many minutes, Exeter were held up over the line.

Bristol had reshuffled their side, with the introduction of Lucy Burgess and Elinor Snowsill at halfback and that seemed to spur them back into life, as they scored their third of the afternoon, shortly after withholding the barrage from the Chiefs.

With Phoebe Murray looking threatening, the centre spotted a mismatch in midfield and coasted through, with DaLeaka Menin hauling her down just short of the line.

The Bears regrouped though, as the built the phases and eventually released Murray on the far side, for the centre to finish off what she started and pull her side back to within two points of the Chiefs.

Exeter were defending for their lives now and Appleby looked to re-energise her squad with the introduction of Ebony Jefferies and McKinley Hunt to the field.

It certainly did the trick, as Jefferies first action of the match was to pop up with a timely turnover for her side to rescue yet another dangerous position.

It was a constant barrage from Bristol now, with Exeter going through 24 phases of defence in their quest to hold onto their slender advantage.

After what seemed like an age, with the Bears pressing and probing on the Chiefs 22, Exeter eventually gave up a penalty, allowing the Bears to kick to the corner.

With little under five minutes left on the clock, Bristol would hit the front, with West going over for her second of the afternoon from the maul. Crucially though, Reed’s conversion drifted wide of the far post, to leave the Chiefs needing only a try to wrestle back the lead.

Whilst Zackary was unable to gather the ball from the restart, the Chiefs were relentless at the breakdown, with Johnson popping up with what turned out to be the most crucial turnover of the season for her side.

Cantorna’s kick to touch was as pinpoint as could be and from there, the drama only continued to build.

With the lineout working at exactly the right time, the pack kept it tight, edging up towards the Bristol line.

As the Bears threw everything they had into the defensive set, the moment that would seal the match came, with Flo Robinson spotting a space on the shortside, to dart and release Detiveaux, to power over and edge her side back into the lead.

Cantorna kept her 100% record for the afternoon going to leave the Bears needing a try to steal the spot in the final.

When they kicked long from the restart, it looked for all money like it was Exeter’s to lose, but the concession of a penalty allowed the Bears one final opportunity.

With near enough fifteen players in the maul, Bristol put everything into it with their season on the line, but when Exeter needed their renowned defensive nous most, they found it, to strangle possession away from the Bears and seal the turnover, sparking pandemonium on the pitch and in in the stands.

This was a titanic tussle worthy of any semi-final, but it was the Chiefs who won out, to secure their date with destiny at Sixways.

Whatever happens in the final on June 3rd, the Chiefs have well and truly arrived at the forefront of the women’s game, with an historic double now just one game away.

Exeter Chiefs Team:

M. Doidge; E. Sinclair; K. Kobayashi, G. Cantorna; J. Detiveaux; P. Garcia (M. Foster 68). F. Robinson; H. Rogers (G. Senft 68), E. Tuttosi, D. Menin; N. Fryday (M. Hunt 54), L. van der Velden (E. Jefferies 54); P. Leitch, R. Johnson, K. Zackary

Not Used: C. Nielson, M. Roberts, B. Bradley, N. McGillivray

Tries: Rogers 2, van der Velden, Detiveaux

Conversions: Cantorna 4

Bristol Bears Team:

K. Powell; J. Hesketh; P. Murray, A. Reed; C. Keight; L. Skuse (E. Snowsill 52), K. Bevan (L. Burgess 52); S. Pam (C. Kill 73), H. West, S. Bern; D. Burns (N. John 68), A. Ward; A. Butchers, M. Johnes, S. Lillicrap (E. Mulhearn 63)

Not Used: H. Phillips, G. Nigrelli, E. Lovibond

Tries: West 2, Bevan, Murray

Conversions: Reed 2

Referee: Charlie Gayther

ARs: Simon Adams & Peter Brunt

TMO: Sara Cox

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