Chiefs Women to face Bristol Bears
By Harry Scott-Munro
Head Coach Susie Appleby has challenged her Exeter Chiefs side to remain “competitive” as their debut Allianz Premier 15s season resumes tomorrow away to Westcountry rivals Bristol Bears at Shaftesbury Park (12pm).
Much has happened since the Chiefs last took to the field against Sale Sharks back in December, when a 38-0 victory saw Appleby’s side hit a near perfect final note to end 2020.
Amongst the changes over the Christmas period have been the arrival of three new players: American pair Rachel Johnson and Joanna Katlinski, alongside Irish international Laura Sheehan.
Appleby confirmed that both Johnson and Sheehan would make their Chiefs bow from the bench this weekend – and she has been delighted with how her new signings have fitted into her plans.
“Jojo and Rachel, the two forwards that have come from the States to join us, and then Laura from Ireland, they have all shown up really well and settled in really well. They’ve been doing a lot of work before they arrived on Hudl catching up with what we’ve been doing.”
Appleby was also delighted with the atmosphere within the squad and how the relationships between players have grown and flourished since the start of the season.
“The girls have welcomed them (the new signings) with open arms, as they do with everybody that comes into our camp, which is just brilliant.
“They’re definitely getting to know each other on and off the field – and off the field is equally as important as on it. They know how to look after each other, they know what each other does, they’ve trained alongside each other for a lot longer now. There’s a really good feeling in the squad. They’re really proud in the badge, even though they haven’t worn it for very long. They feel really proud to perform, really proud to be here and really excited to be here.”
Tomorrow’s encounter with Bristol will see Chiefs look to avenge their defeat to the Bears in their first-ever outing at Sandy Park earlier in the season, where they went down 24-22. Appleby knows her side will be coming up against “a really solid team who do simple things very, very well,” but also knows her side are in a very different place to where they were earlier in the season.
“It was a long time ago, game two,” she added. “We were very new. There’s a few players here now who didn’t even play in that game or hadn’t even got through quarantine, so we’re a very different outfit now. No doubt they will be much improved as well. That day, we came out of the blocks firing and then gave them one straight back. We just never really settled until quite late in the game. Now we’re finding that we settle a lot quicker and that’s the challenge; can you get straight into a game and continue for seventy minutes?”
Tomorrow will be the first of four tough January assignments for Appleby and her side, with an away fixture against Worcester Warriors sandwiched in between the visits of table-toppers Harlequins and Saracens to Sandy Park.
Appleby is expecting her side to perform, but doesn’t want to put too much pressure on them.
“We’re aiming high, but not too high. We’ve got to be realistic. It’s a cliché, but it’s true. We just focus on each game week in, week out. We’ve got four tough games, two local derbies effectively, up the M5 a little bit, which are away fixtures which are going to be tough. We’re bringing two very good London sides here. We haven’t played Saracens yet, but they’re top of the league with Quins and both of them are coming to town in the next few weeks.”
The positivity within Appleby’s chargers though, leaves her with many reasons to be positive.
“We’ve had some good training over the Christmas period and tried to not knock off, not too much rest but obviously we’ve given the players some rest and I think they’re pretty much raring to go on Saturday.
“I think the enjoyment is showing in our performances, the drive to keep improving no matter what stage you are in your career and therefore we’re turning out results. It’s going to be a really good measure of how we’re developing as a squad.”
Supporters will be able to follow tomorrow’s game live through the RFU’s official channels.
EXETER CHIEFS TEAM TO FACE BRISTOL BEARS
15 Merryn Doidge
14 Lottie Holland
13 Lauren Cattell
12 Gabby Cantorna
11 Garnet Mackinder
10 Taylor Black
9 Patricia Garcia
1 Sachiko Kato
2 Emily Tuttosi
3 Laura Delgado
4 Poppy Leitch
5 McKinley Hunt
6 Ebony Jefferies
7 Kate Zackary
8 Linde van der Velden (capt)
16 Daisy French
17 Michaella Roberts
18 Olivia De Merchant
19 Rachel Johnson
20 Abbie Fleming
21 Flo Robinson
22 Laura Sheehan
23 Niamh Terry