Harlequins Women 12 Chiefs Women 24
Harlequins Women 12
Exeter Chiefs Women 24
Harry Scott-Munro at the Twickenham Stoop
They may have been playing at the home of Harlequins, but it was Exeter Chiefs who were the great entertainers on the day.
Champions are there to be shot at and Susie Appleby’s side did just that, as they produced a masterful performance of trickery and power to secure a famous victory at the Twickenham Stoop.
In a cagey first half, Harlequins held a slender 7-5 lead thanks to Fi Fletcher’s converted score with McKinley Hunt responding in kind for the visitors.
In the second half, Chiefs upped the intensity, running out deserved winners with further scores from Linde van der Velden, Laura Sheehan and Rachel Johnson with stand-in fly-half Flo Robinson converted two.
Heading into the fixture off the back of last weekend’s resounding victory over Sale Sharks, Head Coach Appleby was forced into a tactical reshuffle, as fly-half Gabby Cantorna was ruled out with an ankle injury. In her absence, Robinson shifted to the role at No.10 with summer signing Brooke Bradley starting her first match at scrum-half as a result. The final tweaks saw co-captain Kate Zackary move into the centres, with Merryn Doidge moving to full-back in place of Liv Jones, Linde Van der Velden returning to the starting XV.
Harlequins made several changes themselves from their high-scoring 66-31 victory over Worcester Warriors with Katy Mew, Izzy Mayhew and Lucy Packer all starting.
Under the shadow of Twickenham Stadium, it was Chiefs who started the brightest, working their way towards the Harlequins 22. Just as they did against Sale, the pack started off in dominant fashion, winning a scrum against the head to put themselves within sight off the Quins line. They were, however, unable to capitalise, the Chiefs penalised for holding on, allowing Quins their first opportunity with ball in hand.
In truth, the first half was one of attrition, both sides looking to capitalise in attack, but coming up against supreme defence. Whilst Harlequins were at times guilty of ill-discipline, the Chiefs weren’t able to capitalise on the opportunities that came their way.
Several times, Appleby’s side worked themselves to within metres of the Harlequins line, only to be stopped in their tracks through small handling errors.
At the 20-minute mark, Quins almost hit the Chiefs with a sucker punch. After a loose pass in midfield allowed the hosts the space to attack, Shaunagh Brown drove into the Chiefs 22, winning a penalty that allowed them to kick to touch. With the driving maul sending Chiefs into reverse, it looked for all money like Quins would be the ones to open the account for the afternoon, only for Emily Tuttosi to pop up when her side needed it most to hold the ball up.
Minutes later, the shoe was on the other foot, as Tuttosi and her pack were held up over the Harlequins line. The pressure was unrelenting from Exeter at this point but each time they got close, they were unable to convert.
In the end, it was the hosts that opened the scoring for the afternoon. The ever-dangerous Ellie Kildunne raced down the wing, putting in a delicately placed grubber for Vickii Cornborough to race onto. From there, the hosts kept their composure, Fletcher crossing from close range.
The response from the Chiefs though was immediate. From the restart, they applied the pressure, as the Harlequins penalties continued to add up. At long last, the driving maul came up trumps, Hunt crossing, much to the delight of the Exeter coaching staff.
HALF-TIME: HARLEQUINS WOMEN 7 EXETER CHIEFS WOMEN 5
The second half started in somewhat controversial fashion. After Lagi Tuima accidently mistimed her tackle on Hunt, Exeter looked to set out their stool in the Quins half. Minutes later though, Harlequins’ Emily Robinson hit Hunt with a late and high tackle, leaving the Chiefs second-row stricken on the ground. After a long stoppage, the Canadian international was stretchered from the field, with confirmation after the game that she had suffered a broken leg as a result of the challenge.
That seemed to fire up her Chiefs team-mates though, as they continued to hammer away the Quins defence. A series of beautiful pieces of interplay from Bradley, Rachel Johnson and Jennine Duncan took the Chiefs to within sight of the Quins line, with the aforementioned Robinson seeing yellow for another high tackle.
Younger sister Flo opted for the shot at the posts, only for her kick to cannon back off the upright. It mattered little though as Quins fumbled the ball, allowing Chiefs a prime attacking opportunity. Chiefs continued to edge themselves closer to the line and, after a dart from Flo Robinson, van der Velden showing power and poise to dot down, Robinson converting.
With just over a quarter of the match to go came the score of the afternoon. An overthrown line-out from Harlequins deep in the Exeter 22 gave the Chiefs possession. With space spotted out wide, Flo Robinson feed centre Kanako Kobayashi. The Japanese centre is already making a name for herself in the early part of the season, and she was at her sublime best here. After a beautiful arching run, she put in a pinpoint grubber for winger Sheehan to gather and put on the afterburners to dot down for her side’s third score.
There was almost a fourth score minutes later against a shellshocked Harlequins. Winger Duncan burst through several tackles and offloaded inside for the impressive Bradley, the young scrum-half, just unable to hold onto the ball, with the try-line begging.
With ten minutes left on the clock, Exeter did secure that all-important bonus-point.
Bradley’s kicking was supreme throughout and her clever kick into space allowed Duncan to race onto the ball in space. Emily Scott raced back to haul her down a few metres short of the line, but the Chiefs attack was there to support. Arriving first to the breakdown, flanker Johnson had the easiest of tasks to gather the ball and crash over, Robinson converting.
As full-time rolled into view, Quins would have the final say as Amelia Harper dotted down off the back of a rolling maul but by then, Exeter were far away into the distance, securing arguably their most impressive result as a side.
Harlequins Women: E Scott; E Kildunne (E Amory 74); I Mayhew, L Tuima; L Packer; E Green, E Swords (B Blacklock 40); V Cornborough (S Cooper 74), A Cockayne (C Edwards 71), S Brown (S Cooper 55); R Galligan (A Harper 9), F Fletcher; L Brooks (A Sheffield 70), E Robinson (B Dainton 70), K Mew
Tries: Fletcher, Harper; Conversion: Green
Yellow Card: Robinson
Exeter Chiefs Women: M Doidge; J Duncan (O Jones 72); K Kobayashi, K Zackary (cc); L Sheehan; F Robinson, B. Bradley; S Kato (O DeMerchant 56), E Tuttosi (C Nielson 65), D Menin; P Leitch (cc), M Hunt (A Fleming 44); E Jefferies (M Allen 36), R Johnson, L Van der Velden. Replacements (not used): J Thomas, L Holland, C Lewis
Tries: Hunt, Van der Velden, Sheehan, Johnson; Conversions: Robinson (2)
Referee: C Gayther