Chiefs Women 14 Wasps Women 24
Exeter Chiefs Women 14
Wasps Women 24
Harry Scott-Munro at Sandy Park
Exeter Chiefs were unable to make it three wins on the bounce in this season's Allianz Premier 15s, as they went down to high-flying Wasps in a hard-fought encounter at Sandy Park.
Tries from Patricia Garcia and McKinley Hunt, along with a pair of conversions from Gabby Cantorna, had left proceedings evenly poised at the interval. However, a second half penalty from Meg Jones and a try from Ellie Kildunne, this after a cruel bounce of the ball had deceived Chiefs full-back Merryn Doidge, turned things in the visitors favour.
Ahead of kick-off, Chiefs Head Coach Susie Appleby kept faith with those who had secured back-to-back victories against Worcester Warriors and DMP Sharks. The only change to the starting line-up saw Ebony Jefferies replace Alex Powell with Poppy Leitch reverting to the second-row as a result.
The match also saw a return from injury for Japanese prop Sachiko Kato and American speedster Jennine Duncan, both of whom had not featured since the early rounds due to injury.
Wasps, sitting fourth in the table before kick-off, arrived with a team stacked with international talent, making 12 changes from the side that almost secured a huge comeback against champions Saracens in Round 5 to accommodate their returning England contingent.
The early exchanges saw both sides test each other out in search of territory and possession - and it was the indiscipline of the Chiefs that allowed Wasps to gain an early foothold, a series of penalties at the breakdown allowing the visitors to build momentum and work their way into the Chiefs 22.
On six minutes, the visitors struck first, scrum-half Claudia MacDonald reading an overthrown Chiefs line-out and racing through a gap, bouncing out of a tackle and crashing over to open the scoring. Jones landed a difficult conversion to open up an early advantage for the visitors.
This early setback did little to disrupt the Chiefs flow and they grew into the game as it continued, Kate Zackary and Leitch leading from the front in a high-tempo defensive performance.
The Chiefs had their first real attacking opportunity on 11 minutes, Doidge cutting a superb line off Garcia to take play deep into the Wasps half. Those who watch Exeter University will be well aware of Doidge’s attacking prowess, the Chiefs are now beginning to reap the rewards of her elusive running.
Moments later and Spanish scrum-half Garcia almost dotted down for the hosts, spotting the space on the blindside, racing free and chipping for herself to collect. Sadly, the bouncing ball just evaded her before rolling into touch.
The Chiefs continued to pressurise the Wasps defence and were rewarded just two minutes later as Garcia herself dotted down from close range after a series of strong pick and go’s had left Wasps short of numbers at the breakdown. Cantorna’s conversion levelled the scores up at the midway point of the first half.
Up and running, the Chiefs continued to push on, Zackary and Jefferies displaying their usual menace at the breakdown, as Wasps repeatedly were pushed backwards by some strong Chiefs defence.
On 24 minutes, Chiefs ramped the intensity up further, Zackary providing a sumptuous offload to captain Linde Van der Velden to give her side front foot ball in the attacking half. With Wasps penalised for hands in the ruck, Chiefs looked to set-up a line-out five metres out from the visitors line, only for the throw to go awry.
From the resulting scrum, the Chiefs pack dismantled their opposite numbers, winning a penalty against the head. From there, a series of pick and go’s from the forwards put Chiefs in a golden position, Hunt popping up for her first try in a Chiefs shirt. Cantorna’s conversion gave Chiefs a 14-7 lead, with the momentum very much with the hosts.
Ferocious defence met Wasps at every turn, Lottie Holland putting in a thumping hit on Wasps full-back Ellie Kildunne. But, as the half drew to a conclusion, Wasps began to regain some of their earlier momentum, Harriet Millar-Mills setting up an attacking opportunity for her side after a strong carry.
Chiefs have made a habit of scoring on half-time this season. However, it was Wasps who were to give Chiefs a taste of their own medicine this time around, Muir bundling the ball over from close range to level the scores at the break.
HALF TIME: EXETER CHIEFS 14 WASPS 14
The second half began with Wasps displaying a renewed vigour and intensity, drawing an early penalty which Jones converted to give them a 17-14 lead.
For all of Wasps early second half possession, Appleby will be delighted with how her side fronted up in defence, resisting wave after wave of Wasps attack in and around the 22.
The hosts had chances of their own though, Garcia marshalling things with her usual composure from scrum-half.
Whereas in the first half, the Chiefs were able to make the most of their attacking opportunities, the set-piece let them down at times in the second-half, giving Wasps much needed respite.
After second-row Rowena Burnfield was yellow carded for cynically taking Garcia out having not retreated ten metres after a penalty.
Chiefs were unable to make the one player advantage count though, as Wasps held firm.
On 51 minutes, Chiefs thought they were in; Duncan, on her return from injury, bursting through a gap after a clever pass from Taylor Black. With her attacking players trying desperately to keep up, she looked to make a try scoring pass, only for Claudia Macdonald to read play superbly and deny Chiefs what would’ve been a memorable try.
Wasps discipline again left them in a precarious position on 58 minutes, as Chiefs again camped themselves deep in the visitors 22. Much to their frustration though, they were unable to convert the pressure, before Wasps provided Chiefs with a sucker punch two minutes later.
An innocuous kick in behind from Kildunne looked to be covered by Cantorna and Doidge, only for them both to suffer the misfortune of slipping on a greasy surface, allowing Kildunne to gather the ball and run in unopposed under the posts. Jones’ conversion opened up a 24-14 advantage for the visitors that they maintained for the remainder of the match.
As the clock ticked into the red, Chiefs launched one last burst in search of what would’ve been a deserved bonus-point. An inch-perfect cross-field kick from Black was taken superbly by Duncan, who raced from her own 22 to just outside the Wasps 22. The home side continued to build the phases, but were eventually stopped by Wasps, spilling the ball in contact.
Despite the disappointment of a tough loss, today’s performance showed just how far the Chiefs have come in such a short space of time, against a team of seasoned players and packed with international talent.
Chiefs: M Doidge; L Holland (J Duncan 36,) L Cattell (F Robinson 55,) G Cantorna, G Mackinder; T Black, P Garcia (FLewis 55); M Roberts (S Kato 42) E Tuttosi, L Delgado (K Armstrong 61,) P Leitch, M Hunt (A Fleming 61); E Jefferies (A Powell 43) K Zackary, L Van der Velden (capt)
Tries - Garcia, Hunt; Conversions - Cantorna (2)
Wasps: E Kildunne, C Quansah (A Wilson Hardy 41) C Williams (L Nye 58) K Alder (capt) A Dow; M Jones, C Macdonald; H West, H Kerr (A Stock 55) M Muir; R Burnfield, E Crake (S Mitchelson 50); S Kabeya, C Molloy, H Millar-Mills
Tries - Macdonald, Muir, Kildunne; Conversions - Jones (3); Penalty - Jones
Yellow Card - Burnfield
Referee: H Walbaum