Chiefs Women 57 Harlequins Women 12
Exeter Chiefs Women 57
Harlequins Women 12
Harry Scott-Munro at Sandy Park
Days like these don’t come around very often.
However, Exeter Chiefs Women made their own history, as they secured their first-ever silverware, dismantling Harlequins 57-12 in the final of the Allianz Cup at Sandy Park.
This was a day that showcased just how far the Chiefs have come in such a short space of time. Whilst there are still more twists and turns to come in the Allianz Premier 15s before now and the end of the season, this was a marker that was firmly put down by the Devonians, as they truly announced their arrival as a big hitter in women’s rugby.
A week on from a comprehensive victory over Westcountry rivals Bristol Bears in the semi-finals, Head Coach Susie Appleby made several changes, recalling Eilidh Sinclair and Patricia Garcia to the starting XV for the visit of the Londoners.
For Harlequins, they had needed a last-gasp Beth Blacklock penalty to secure their place in the final, but they themselves are no strangers to the Cup Final buzz, having appeared in every league final since the inception of the Premier 15s.
Appleby said during the week that she was looking for her experienced players to lead the way, and they certainly did that. A double from Hope Rogers and Kate Zackary, with further scores from Linde van der Velden, Garcia, Emily Tuttosi, Kanako Kobayashi and Gabby Senft sealed the with Gabby Cantorna and Meg Foster adding four and two conversions respectively.
With over 2,000 roaring the Chiefs on inside a raucous Sandy Park, any early nerves were quickly washed away, as the power game from the Chiefs set up the first score of the afternoon. Exeter’s pack were a class apart on the day and they showed their intent from the first minute, winning a scrum penalty against the head.
With the ball booted firmly into try-scoring territory, they would make no mistake, as American prop Rogers powered over from close range, after the driving maul had left Harlequins at sixes and sevens.
Harlequins, however, are masters when it comes to swinging momentum and they levelled proceedings with their own powerful drive just after 10 minutes, as the referee was left with little choice but to award a penalty try; Linde van der Velden seeing yellow after collapsing the maul.
Although down a player, the Chiefs were up for this one and determined not to let the numerical disadvantage disrupt their charge. Again, it was the power play from the pack that did the damage, as they mauled Harlequins out of the game. With the try line at their mercy, Rogers made no mistake for her second of the match – and her ninth try in as many games since arriving in Devon.
The Chiefs were flying now and thought they were over again, only for some last gasp defence to see the ball held up over the line.
Despite all the pressure though, it was Quins who scored next, as Lagi Tuima picked off a stray pass to race in unopposed. Ellie Green though, missed the conversion, to leave the Chiefs leading by two.
With half-time approaching and in need of a momentum swing, the Chiefs found just that, as Flo Robinson released Maisy Allen down the short-side. The flanker was hauled down just short of the whitewash, but had the presence of mind to offload to Zackary to crash over, Cantorna converting to increase the lead right on the stroke of halftime.
HALF-TIME SCORE: EXETER CHIEFS 19 HARLEQUINS 12
As with last weekend’s semi-final, the second half saw the Chiefs increase the intensity after the break.
It was no surprise that it was the power of the pack that again did the damage, as a driving line-out left Harlequins flailing and scrambling, as van der Velden atoned for her earlier yellow by crashing over to take her side into a commanding lead.
The onslaught had begun now, as Sinclair then broke free after an impressive performance on the left wing, before releasing Garcia. The Spaniard then showed all of her experience and nous, to hot step her way to the line for her side’s fifth score.
Sinclair was enjoying herself now, as she burst free from her own try line, to create yet more havoc in the Harlequins ranks. The visitors though were able to wrestle back possession, but Garcia was on hand to strip the ball as Freya Aucken looked to make metres.
Garcia was in the thick of the action now, after moving to full-back and when she was hit hard and late after a booming clearance kick, Cantorna kicked her side into the Quins 22.
By now, there was only going to be one outcome and, in a performance that will thrill the rugby purist, the back continued to pull the strings and tear Harlequins to pieces.
Twenty metre drives were now becoming almost expected for the Chiefs and it was from yet another, that they were over again, replacement hooker Tuttosi the recipient at the end of yet another dominant effort from the Exeter eight.
The sun was shining now at Sandy Park, and it was shining brightest on the hosts. A missed kick to touch looked to have momentarily stopped the Chiefs charge, but despite Quins being able to keep the ball infield, they were forced to carry the ball over the line and ground it.
As soon as the Chiefs set for the scrum, there was only going to be one outcome, as they again asserted their dominance, to drive over from the scrum, allowing Zackary to dot down for her second of the afternoon.
Harlequins, to their credit refused to give in, as they sauntered their way through in midfield and up to the Chiefs 22. That momentary period of possession though came to nothing, as Allen popped up with a crucial turnover for her side.
Exeter were relentless, and refusing to rest on their laurels. Penalties at the breakdown allowed them to build momentum back into the Quins 22. First, Sinclair went close, before the pack went about their business. Whilst this had been a masterclass from the pack, they decided that is was time to share the try scoring love, with the ball worked wide for Kobayashi to gleefully dive over.
Cantorna had left the field but Foster continued the fine performance from the tee as she duly slotted the extras.
There was still time though for one final flurry and it was arguably the try of the day!
Straight from the restart, McKinley Hunt went on the rampage, bursting through several tackles and finding Zackary. The flanker then showed a terrific turn of pace to race through, finding Senft on her inside, allowing the Canadian to coast in and add the final gloss to a dream finals day for Exeter.
The race for the play-offs is still very much alive, with huge tests against Saracens and Bristol Bears to come. For now though, this was a result to make the rest of the league sit up and take notice.
Chiefs: M Doidge (M Foster 52); J Detiveaux; K Kobayashi, G. Cantorna (N McGillivray 66); E Sinclair; P. Garcia, F Robinson (F. Robinson 69); H Rogers (M Roberts 66), C Nielson (E Tuttosi 50); L Delgado (D Menin 50); P Leitch (co-capt), L van der Velden (M Hunt 62); E. Jefferies (G Senft 69), M Allen, K Zackary
Tries: Rogers (2), Zackary (2), van der Velden, Garcia, Tuttosi, Kobayashi, Senft; Conversions: Cantorna (4), Foster (2)
Yellow Card: van der Velden
Harlequins: E Green (K Shillaker 55); I Mayhew (C Wellbelove 58); L Tuima, B Blacklock; F Aucken (P Roberts 70); E Scott, E Swords; H Duffy, R Dobson (D Catlin 48), C Edwards (S Cooper 54); K Mew, J Kronish (H Smith 50); L Brooks (F Fletcher 70), A Harper, S Beckett. Replacement (not used): G Clifford
Tries: Penalty Try, Tuima
Referee: C Gayther