Chiefs Women 18 Harlequins Women 17

Exeter Chiefs Women centre Patricia Garcia fires over her side's match-winning penalty in their Allianz Premier 15s clash with Harlequins at Sandy Park. Picture: Getty Images

Exeter Chiefs Women 18

Harlequins Women 17

Harry Scott-Munro at Sandy Park

Harlequins may have been in town, but it was Exeter Chiefs and Patricia Garcia who were the great entertainers, as the Spaniard’s last-gasp penalty secured an 18-17 victory for her side at Sandy Park.

Tries from Zintle Mpupha and Hope Rogers for the hosts were complimented by eight points from the boot of Garcia. In response, Harlequins scored three tries of their own, through Chloe Edwards, Jade Konkel and Hannah Duffy, with Lagi Tuima also adding a conversion.

Ahead of kick-off, Head Coach Susie Appleby named an unchanged starting XV from last Saturday’s victory over Sale Sharks, although she bolstered her bench with additional firepower in the form of returning trio McKinley Hunt, Ebony Jefferies and Chloe Rollie as well as debutant Rogers.

Whilst the rain threatened to dampen things just prior to kick-off, it was Quins who made the fast start, as centre pairing Rachel Burford and Tuima – the sister of current Chiefs star, Rus Tuima – probed at the home defence.

In truth, the early exchanges were all about the visitors, as they continued to harry and hustle the Chiefs defence, Heather Cowell looking to break down the wing, only for Merryn Doidge to stop her in her tracks with a crunching hit.

Exeter’s defence was holding firm, but mounting penalties were allowing the visitors to keep themselves in range of the Chiefs try line. Eventually, that pressure told, as Edwards charged over with a rolling maul leaving Exeter scrambling in defence.

At times, this was an error strewn match from both teams, but that was perhaps understandable, given the magnitude of the game. With Quins looking to press on from that early score, it was their errors that allowed Exeter an attacking platform for the first time in the match, Tuima’s kick going straight out into touch.

In the first half, the Chiefs continued to resort to a kicking game to try and keep the champions hemmed into their 22, Garcia pulling the strings and allowing Laura Sheehan to put pressure on Harlequins’ full-back Ellie Kildunne.

It was from this position that Exeter’s opening score of the match arrived, after a bludgeoning carry from Linde van der Velden had got the crowd off their feet. With the penalty advantage being played, the Chiefs threw caution to the wind, Meg Foster feeding Mpupha, who charged over for her first try in a Chiefs shirt, Garcia adding the conversion to edge her side into a narrow lead.

The Chiefs would have been hoping to push on from there, but handling errors and a misfiring line-out let Harlequins off the hook. It was a match of fine margins and again, those errors came back to haunt the Chiefs, as Harlequins worked their way up the field thanks to a combination of Tuima’s boot and Exeter’s ill-discipline.

Harlequins’ driving game was helping keep the Chiefs working hard in defence, and that ill-discipline allowed them to fully use the opportunity moments later, Konkel the grateful recipient after another driving maul. Tuima added the conversion, as Harlequins continued to turn the scew.

They thought they were in for their third try of the afternoon, as again the maul caused the home side problems. However, the Chiefs defence has been a key feature of their performances all season and it got them out of jail, Rachel Johnson coming up with a timely turnover to rescue her side.

The Chiefs celebrate as Zintle Mpupha scores her first try for the club. Picture: JMP Sport

Appleby’s side were struggling to wrestle back momentum, but the electric feet and power of wing Jennine Detiveaux breathed life into the game and the crowd, as she hot-stepped her way through the Harlequins defence. In many ways though, the knock-on that followed encapsulated the first half for the Chiefs, as they failed to make the most of their opportunities.


The opening exchanges of the second half followed a very similar pattern to the first, as Exeter’s penalty count allowed Quins to set up camp in the 22, only for Tuima’s touch finder to go dead. It was a big let off for the Chiefs and it seemed to spur them into life, as they looked to take their foot off the handbrake.

Garcia’s boot was again forcing Harlequins to turn and chase, with Rollie hustling Jess Breach and Ellie Kildunne to force a knock-on.

The Chiefs continued to drive forward with intent, but often they were met each time with a brick wall in defence. With three points on offer, Garcia made no mistake to narrow the gap and keep her side in the hunt with little over 20 minutes to go.

The Harlequins response was instant, and again it was from the driving maul that they inflicted the damage. For all Exeter’s hard work to drag themselves back into the match, the penalty count was still proving to be an issue.

With the momentum now firmly back with the visitors, prop Duffy barrelled over off the back of another well-organised drive from the pack to take her side into a seven-point lead.

Exeter's Ebony Jefferies leads the charge for her side at Sandy Park. Picture: JMP Sport

Appleby said during the week that having the ability to bring on additional firepower from the bench could prove crucial in the final shake up.

She may not have been expecting her prophetic words to come to fruition so quickly though. With time ticking away, replacement Ebony Jefferies cut a sumptuous line to leave the Harlequins defence at sixes and sevens, finding Detiveaux with an inch-perfect pass to allow the wing to crash up into the visitors 22.

With time ticking away, the Chiefs wrestled their way over the line, only for Jefferies to be held up. But, with the penalty advantage in their favour, the Chiefs regrouped, building the phases before debutant Rogers burst through a tackle in the far corner to dot down with just two minutes left.

There was confusion abound as Garcia looked to level the match from the tee, Harlequins charging at the centre as she looked to start her run-up. But her quickly taken snap kick hit the post, leaving Exeter still needing another score to win the match.

Straight from the restart, the visitors were penalised for side entry. Garcia stayed calm to put the conversion out of her mind and find a monster kick to touch that gave her side a sniff of the most unlikely of victories.

The clock was now in the red, as Exeter went to work trying to find any sort of opening in the Quins defence. That moment duly arrived at the breakdown, as the referee awarded the Devonians a penalty, leaving Garcia with a kick to win it.

With some of her team-mates unable to watch – and against the backdrop of an eerie, nervous silence – the Spanish international kept her composure to slot the penalty. That kick sparked rapturous celebrations from those on the pitch and in the stands, as the Chiefs completed the latest of late, late shows, to move themselves up to third in the Allianz Premier 15s table.

Chiefs: M Doidge; J Detiveaux; Z. Mpupha, P Garcia; L Sheehan (C Rollie 51); M Foster (N McGillivray 51), F. Robinson; L. Delgado (M Hunt 56), E Tuttosi (C Nielson 52), D Menin (H Rogers 52); A Fleming, L Van der Velden (N Fryday 66); P Leitch (co-capt, E Jefferies 66), R Johnson, K Zackary (co-capt). Replacement (not used): B Bradley

Tries - Mpupha, Rogers; Conversion – Garcia; Penalties - Garcia (2)

Harlequins: E Kildunne; H. Cowell; L Tuima, R Burford (capt, I Mayhew 69); J Breach (F Aucken 75); E Scott, L Packer (E Swords 52); V Cornborough (T. Viksten 69), A Cokayne, C Edwards (H Duffy 59); R Galligan, F Fletcher; J Konkel, B Dainton (L Brooks 51), S Beckett. Replacements (not used): E Bloor, P Roberts

Tries - Edwards, Konkel, Duffy; Conversion - Tuima

Referee: H Walbaum

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