Chiefs Women 14 Wasps Women 18
Exeter Chiefs Women 14
Wasps Women 18
Mark Stevens at Sandy Park
Exeter Chiefs Women’s head coach Susie Appleby said she would look to take the positives from her side’s narrow pre-season loss against Allianz Premier 15s rivals Wasps Women.
Played out in front of a bumper crowd at Sandy Park, the Chiefs were left to rue late missed chances as the visitors headed back up the road with victory, thanks in the main to second half tries from Liz Crake, Christina Balogun and Tess Braunerova.
The Chiefs, who had led at half time 7-3 thanks to a converted try from Japanese debutant, Kanako Kobayashi, extended their lead early in the second half when they gained another maximum haul from Liv Jones’ first-ever score for the club.
However, Wasps rallied impressively and even when they lost Maude Muir and Claudia MacDonald to the sin-bin in the dying embers of the game, they were able to hold Appleby’s side at bay.
The Chiefs could - and probably should - have bagged the win in the closing minutes, piling on the pressure and winning a number of penalties just metres from the Wasps line. But, just as they looked poised to strike, they coughed the ball up in possession, allowing their rivals to close out the game with ease.
Post-game, Appleby said: “On a day like today, you have to take the positives. The game was an opportunity for a lot of the squad to put their hands up. Some have done that, some didn’t. We had an opportunity to win the game at the end, so it’s a little disappointing we didn’t do that.
“The good thing, though, is we’ve come through the game with no real injuries and both ourselves and Wasps will have gained plenty from playing the game. We’ve now got a couple of weeks to real work on things ahead of our opening league game against Bristol Bears.”
Ahead of kick-off, Appleby handed first starts to newcomers Jones, Kobayashi, Caitlin Lewis and Maisy Allen - and they were all quickly into the action as the home side started this seasonal warm-up firmly on the front foot.
American duo Kate Zackary and Gabby Cantorna were leading the charge, as were Laura Delgado and Linde van der Velden, the latter two helping to get the Chiefs to within sniffing distance of the Wasps line.
Although the Chiefs huffed and puffed in attack, Wasps defended defiantly and having soaked up what the home side could offer, they then threatened themselves with a neat attack through Carys Williams and Braunerova.
With early season handling errors evident and the teams re-introducing themselves to scrums, it was Wasps who came within a whisker of breaking the deadlock on 25 minutes. Skipper MacDonald and No.8 Harriet Millar-Mills combined well down the right, only for the move to be pulled back for a foot in touch.
Wasps, though, were on the front foot and when they won a penalty deep inside the home 22, it was fly-half Hannah Edwards who potted them in front with a simple kick.
It was just reward for their efforts, but as half time drew near, it was the Chiefs who stole in front. Skipper Zackary was released off a line-out take from Abby Fleming, the American forward tore through the heart of the Wasps defence, before offering a simple offload to Koboyashi, who was able to squeeze over by the posts for the score, converted by Cantorna.
Like the first half, the Chiefs started brightly after the break and it was Koboyashi, who turned provider this time round, the Japanese centre scooping up some loose possession to release full-back Jones, who showed a good turn of pace to power over from 20 metres out. Cantorna again bagged the extras to put the Chiefs in command of proceedings at 14-3.
Up against it, Wasps needed to summon a rapid response and with both sides introducing fresh faces from the sidelines, it was the visitors who clicked into gear, hauling themselves back into the contest with deadly effect.
Sustained pressure through the middle had the Chiefs scrambling in defence, before the visitors used their close-range forwards to work the opening for Crake to steal over from close range.
Lifted by the score, Wasps continue to keep the pressure on and just past the hour mark they cut the deficit to a point, more heavyweight work from their forward pack, allowing Balogun to drive over from just a few yards out.
Appleby continued to run the rule over a number of fresh faces from her bench, one of which was winger Charlie Woodman, who impressed in her first Chiefs outing. She was lively throughout and one second half run underlined her attacking prowess.
Wasps - to their credit - were standing firm in the face of a spirited Chiefs showing and with just over 10 minutes remaining, they regained the lead when brilliant link-up play from Williams and Jess Cooksey created the time and space for Braunerova to steal over in the left corner.
There was still time for the Chiefs to hit back and with Ebony Jefferies and Zackary at the heart of their good work, they propelled themselves to within sight of the Wasps line. Piling on the pressure, the visitors lost Muir to the bin for a professional foul, quickly followed by MacDonald who saw yellow for an ugly tackle on Allen.
But despite their numerical advantage, the Chiefs - who initially tried to go over from close-range - then went wide, spilling the ball in possession, gifted Wasps the chance to ease the pressure.
With a fortnight to go before their seasonal opener, Appleby has plenty to ponder in terms of her first selection. She was, however, delighted with the 2,000+ crowd in attendance for the game.
“It was amazing, wasn’t it?” said Appleby. “I’m so glad the team have got to experience that kind of crowd and atmosphere before the season starts. You saw today how much people want to watch the game in this area. Now, they’ve experienced a crowd like that, it’s a case of building on that as the season moves forward.”
Chiefs: L Jones; J Duncan, K Kobayashi, G Cantorna, C Lewis; F Robinson, P Garcia; S Kato, C Nielson, L Delgado; A Fleming, L van der Velden; E Jefferies, M Allen, K Zackary (capt).
Replacements Used: L Hanlon, L Leatherland, J Thomas, C Willett, D French, B Bradley, N McGillivray, G Gower, M Whitehouse, C Woodman.
Tries: Kobayashi, Jones; Conversions: Cantorna (2)
Wasps: J Cooksey; T Braunerova, E Boatman, C Williams, A Dow; H Edwards, C MacDonald (capt); A Stock, H Kerr, M Muir; R Burnfield, C Balogun; H Caux, K Searcy, H Millar-Mills.
Tries: Crake, Balogun, Braunerova; Penalty: Edwards
Referee: A Wookey