Chiefs Women 22 Bears Women 24
Exeter Chiefs Women 22
Bristol Bears Women 24
Harry Scott-Munro at Sandy Park
A powerful second half showing wasn’t quite enough for Susie Appleby’s Exeter Chiefs side as they narrowly lost to rivals Bristol Bears in their latest Allianz Premier 15s encounter.
Having trailed 19-5 at the break, the Chiefs produced a sterling fightback, missing out on a share of the spoils when Lauren Cattell’s late conversion dropped just short of the mark.
The England international was unable to add the extras to flanker Kate Zackary’s late score, meaning the Devonians were unable to mark their first-ever outing at Sandy Park with a victory.
However, the two bonus points collected on the day mean the Chiefs are finally up and running and will give them plenty of heart moving forward.
Keen to build on a lively first outing at Gloucester-Hartpury the week previous, the Chiefs could not have hoped for a much better start as they raced out of the blocks with a brutal opening phase of play. An early breakdown penalty gifted the Chiefs an attacking line-out just inside the Bears half, before a bludgeoning carry from captain Linde Van der Velden created chaos within the Bears defence.
The all-action No.8 made decent inroads before she fed Gabby Cantorna, who was hauled down inches short of the line. The Chiefs, though, recycled possession quickly and aftera series of short carries near the line, fly-half Taylor Black burst over the line for a dream start.
The early optimism of that score, however, was extinguished immediately from the resulting restart, as Bristol Bears captain Amber Reed leapt highest, plucking the ball out of the air and just having the legs to cross the whitewash.
That score seemed to deflate the Chiefs slightly, Bristol hammering the Chiefs line, winning a series of penalties in quick succession, only for an accidental offside to provide the hosts with some much-needed respite and an opportunity to clear their lines.
American centre Cantorna was superb on her first start, her bruising carry just before the first water break, taking play back into the Bristol 22. It mattered little though as Lottie Holland was forced into touch.
It was from here that the Bears secured their second score of the match, a series of penalties allowing Keira Bevan to work her side back into the Exeter half, before she found prop forward Simi Pam, who cut a brilliant line to burst through the Chiefs defence for the score. Reed’s conversion opened up a seven-point advantage for the visitors.
Bristol had the bit between their teeth and it almost got worse two minutes later for the Chiefs as the electric feet of Jasmine Joyce caught the home side cold and took play back into the 22. Former Exeter University student Lily Stoeger-Goddard thought she’d crossed out wide for the Bears, only for play to be pulled back for a forward pass, much to the relief of all at the ground.
Visiting pressure was mounting by the minute and eventually it told when England international Sarah Bern rose last from a pile of bodies for her side’s third score of the afternoon.
Chiefs looked to respond with half-time approaching, a superb line from Ebony Jefferies and searing break from Merryn Doidge taking play deep into the Bears 22, but the opportunity went begging though as Ffion Lewis’s pass out to Holland flew over her head and into touch.
HALF TIME EXETER CHIEFS WOMEN 7 BRISTOL BEARS WOMEN 19
With plenty to do on the restart, the second half started on a sour note as Bears scrum-half Keira Bevan went down with a nasty looking injury that caused a substantial delay. After she was stretchered from the pitch, play resumed with the Bears hunting down a bonus-point score.
And it didn’t take long for them to find it, Jasmine Joyce crosing for a deserved score, beating Garnet Mackinder on the outside and dotting down.
The Chiefs needed to summon a rapid response, which they did as the inspirational van der Velden hauled her side back into contention with a try on 51 minutes. The Dutch international bagged her second of the season, finishing superb work from Zackary.
It was just what the Chiefs craved and with a renewed sense of purpose and vigour, consistently making yards into the Bears 22, they again made their pressure pay dividends when replacement Lauren Leatherland crossed from short range. Cattell’s drop-kicked conversion drifted wide, reducing the deficit to seven with just three minutes remaining.
The final minutes saw a frenetic finish, as both sides struggled to retain possession and control over territory. A breakdown penalty against Chiefs saw Bristol find touch 5m out from the Chiefs line, but they failed to win the ball, allowing Chiefs one final opportunity.
Tearing back down field, their cause was aided when Bristol hooker Abbie Parsons was sent to the sin-bin for an accumulation of penalties. A huge carry from the impressive Zackary took play back into the Bears half, whereby a series of busts from the pack took play to the 10m line, before Zackary struck for the Chiefs, the flanker showing an incredible turn of pace to race clear and dot down in the corner.
Cattell’s conversion attempt to draw the match was on target, but sadly it fell just short of the posts, allowing the Bears to breath a huge sigh of relief in victory.
Exeter Chiefs: M Doidge (N Terry 52) L Holland, L Cattell, G Cantorna, G MacKinder; T Black, F Lewis (F Robinson 48); M Roberts (L Leatherland 41), E Tuttosi (C Budge 52), S Katoh (O De Merchant 22); A Fleming (P Leitch 48), M Hunt; E Jefferies (D French 41), K Zackary, L van der Velden (capt).
Tries – Black, Van der Velden, Leatherland, Zackary; Conversion – Cattell
Bristol Bears: K Powell, L Stoeger-Goddard (C Keight 68,) P Murray, A Reed (capt,) J Joyce; E Snowsill (L Skuse 46) K Bevan (R Parker 37); S Pam (S Evans 69), A Parsons, S Bern (E Mulhearn 46); N John, H Cunningham; M Johnes, A Butchers, R Marston (M Boyd 68)
Tries – Reed, Pam, Bern, Joyce; Conversions – Reed (2)
Yellow Card - Parsons