Gloucester-Hartpury 34 Chiefs 14
Gloucester-Hartpury Women 34
Exeter Chiefs Women 14
Harry Scott-Munro at the Alpas Arena
Exeter Chiefs’ first outing in the Allianz Premier 15s ended in defeat to an experienced Gloucester-Hartpury side at the Alpas Arena.
Despite the result, there will be plenty of optimism for the Chiefs, with plenty of flashes of the attacking ability head coach Susie Appleby will hope her side can unlock over the coming months.
A frenetic opening saw both sides struggle to assert any territorial dominance on the game, particularly with the ruck a hotly contested area. For all the talk of new laws lessening the number of scrums and close contact in a match, it was somewhat ironic that the first scrum of the match saw several resets as both sides looked to get to grips with one another.
The Chiefs early work around the breakdown seemed to startle the hosts, American international Kate Zackary leading the charge with several strong turnovers in the opening minutes.
For all Exeter’s strength around the breakdown, however, their line-out let them down at times and will be the key area they will seek to improve upon leading into next weekend home encounter against Bristol Bears. Several promising attacking positions were spurned with the communication between thrower and jumpers not quite matching up.
The 10 minute mark gave the hosts their first sight of the Chiefs line, as winger Ellie Underwood burst through out wide, only for Garnet MacKinder to track back superbly to haul her opposite number down within sight of the line.
Exeter’s defence was superb, securing a penalty after Gloucester-Hartpury were penalised for holding on, allowing Taylor Black to relieve the mounting pressure. The hosts had another opportunity just minutes later, as a looping pass from fly-half Ceri Large found Rachel Lund in the channel. The opportunity again went begging though, as Lund’s attempted pass out to Kelly Smith went skidding into touch.
The pressure finally told, however, on 15 minutes as last season’s top league try-scorer Smith opened the hosts account for the season. A strong initial burst in midfield from Tatyana Heard put the Exeter defence on the back foot, before Gwen Crabb fed the ball to Smith who raced in from 40m out, rounding full-back Merryn Doidge for the try.
The visitors looked to respond quickly, a pinpoint restart from Black allowing the side to regather possession and mount an assault on the Gloucester-Hartpury line, only to spill the ball in contact when one more phase would’ve in all likelihood seen them crash over.
With a few mistakes starting to creep into the Exeter game, Gloucester-Hartpury grabbed their second score of the afternoon on 25 minutes. A lofted pass in midfield was intercepted by Rachel Lund who burst free, only for a brilliant piece of defensive tracking from winger Jeannine Duncan to stop her in her tracks. Under pressure, Exeter gave away a penalty at the breakdown, with Gloucester-Hartpury mauling over from the resulting line-out through Shona Powell-Hughes.
Although behind, the Chiefs responded impressively and they claimed theit first-ever score in the top flight through captain Linde van der Velden.
With Chiefs building the phases in the Gloucester-Hartpury 22, referee Sara Cox awarded the visitors a penalty just inside the 22, van der Velden took a quick tap, before rampaging through a host of attempted tackles to dot down for the score. Taylor Black’s successful conversion reduced the deficit to just three points with half-time approaching.
The second-half saw the hosts come flying out of the traps, catching the Chiefs cold. England international Zoe Aldcroft scored her first of the half after Powell-Hughes’ bust through the Exeter defence had left several defenders scattered in her wake. Ellie Underwood’s conversion opened up a 17-7 advantage for the hosts.
Alarm bells were ringing for Exeter minutes later as Cerys Hale almost slipped in for a fourth score from a misfunctioning line-out. All in attendance were able to blow a sigh of relief, as the prop fumbled the ball with the try line at her mercy.
This proved to be only a small moment of respite for the Chiefs with the fourth score coming just two minutes later through Hannah Jones. A sweeping backs move saw Jones find space out wide and despite an excellent tackle from the Chiefs drift defence, she had the whereabouts to release the ball in contact, allowing her to regather and barge over for the bonus-point score.
It was going to take something special for Chiefs to get themselves back into the game and it came in the 53rd minute. With play seemingly stuck in and around the halfway line, American flanker Zackary showed a stunning turn of pace to streak clear down the blindside, being hauled down deep in the Gloucester-Hartpury 22.
A penalty at the ruck allowed Chiefs to set themselves into a pattern of play that will be all too familiar to those who watch the men’s team, with a series of bursts around the fringes from the pack edging them closer to the line. Gloucester-Hartpury’s defence was finally breached, Zackary popping up with the ball for a score her performance richly deserved. Another successful conversion from Black reduced the score line to 22-14 with 15 minutes remaining.
Any hopes of mounting a comeback were quashed however as, from the restart, Gloucester-Hartpury scored their fifth. A classy take in the air from Underwood allowed them to reclaim possession, before a huge dummy from Hannah Jones left the Exeter defence chasing shadows. She executed a simple two-on-one to feed replacement Daisy Fahey for the score.
A sixth and final score soon followed, the hosts again resorting to a pick and go game after another strong bust into the heart of the Exeter defence from Powell-Hughes had left Exeter scrambling. Despite the defence reorganising well, Zoe Aldcroft showed all her experience to bundle the ball over the line for her second score.
The Chiefs refused to give in though and looked to find one last score with the clock running out. The imperious van der Velden produced another barnstorming run to take play up to the halfway line, with Gabby Cantorna unlucky not to break the line with a strong carry.
Yet another penalty at the breakdown allowed Chiefs to work their way up to the 22, with van der Velden and Doidge linking up well in midfield. It wasn’t to be for the side though, Ebony Jefferies eventually forced into touch, before the hosts won a final penalty, kicking the ball out to secure the win.
Gloucester-Hartpury: H Jones; E Underwood, R Lund, T Heard (M Wood 35); K Smith (D Fahey 35); C Large, N Hunt (capt); E Perry, C Powell (Lock 55), C Hale; S Bonar, Z Aldcroft; S Williams, G Crabb, S Powell-Hughes
Tries - Smith, Powell, Aldcroft (2), Jones, Fahey; Conversions - Underwood, Fahey
Chiefs: M Doidge, J Duncan (L Burgess 59), L Holland (G Cantorna 35), L Cattell, G Mackinder; T Black, F Lewis (F Robinson 59), M Roberts (C Budge 47), E Tuttosi (L Leatherland 54), S Katoh (J Thomas 64); A Fleming (D French 62), M Hunt (R Moynihan 47); E Jeffries, K Zackery, L van der Velden (capt)
Tries - Van Der Velden, Zackery; Conversions - Black (2)
Referee: S Cox