Harlequins Women 33 Chiefs Women 14
Harlequins Women 33
Exeter Chiefs Women 14
Harry Scott-Munro at the Surrey Sports Park
Exeter’s search for a first Allianz Premier 15s win continues after they were undone 33-14 at table-topping Harlequins.
On a testing afternoon for Susie Appleby’s side, they did their best against a powerful Quins’ outfit who for a third successive fixture picked up maximum reward.
Early Harlequins pressure saw them tear into a resilient Chiefs defence, but some excellent early work from Lauren Leatherland and Ebony Jefferies halted the hosts charge before Sarah Beckett finally burst over on five minutes, after a 20-phase effort from her side.
Playing with the wind, Harlequins continued to establish an early dominance, pouncing on loose ball in the middle of the park. A fired-up Jefferies continued to hassle and harry them, creating chaos at the breakdown, but Quins were to strike again on 11 minutes, Shaunagh Brown crossing on the occasion of her 50th appearance from close range, after her side had continued to build phases well in the face of a resolute Exeter defence.
In truth, the Chiefs struggled to really gain any momentum in the opening part of the match, coughing up possession in the Harlequins half and being shut out from the hosts 22 by some determined defence.
Harlequins thought they were in again on 15 minutes, as Heather Cowell broke free down the blindside. Fortunately for the Chiefs, Lauren Cattell read the play superbly, popping up with a timely intercept to stop the hosts in their stride.
The Chiefs will learn huge amounts from this game, specifically the necessity to be clinical and take care of the ball when in possession. After two quick penalties had seen the impressive Flo Robinson take play into the Harlequins half, the ball was lost in heavy contact, allowing Harlequins to break free down the left-hand side.
They would’ve been in, had it not been for a quite brilliant covering tackle from winger Lottie Holland. Her tackle allowed the Chiefs defence to regroup, successfully holding Quins up over the line. It mattered little though as from the resulting restart, Harlequins bundled the ball over for their third score of the afternoon, Vicki Cornborough the scorer on this occasion.
The strong wind continued to be to their advantage in the first half, fly-half Ellie Green controlling the game with real class, using the wind to her advantage to consistently keep Chiefs pegged back in their half.
With little over ten minutes of the first half remaining, Chiefs finally started to get their attacking game going. A crunching tackle from the diminutive Robinson on Lagi Tuima brought up a Chiefs penalty which was taken quickly.
In atrocious conditions, Merryn Doidge did fantastically to hold onto a difficult pass, feeding Garnet Mackinder, who showed impressive strength to brush off several defenders and take play deep into the Harlequins half. A Harlequins infringement at the breakdown gave the side a strong attacking opportunity.
Unfortunately however, Chiefs were penalised for crossing in midfield. With the clock ticking down, Chiefs launched another assault on the Harlequins line, after two brilliant carries from substitute Olivia De Merchant and centre Gabby Cantorna. Despite the initial effort, Chiefs weren’t able to convert the opportunity allowing Quins to clear their lines.
HALF-TIME SCORE: HARLEQUINS 21 EXETER CHIEFS 0
The second half saw the arrival of Spaniard Patricia Garcia into the fold, replacing the impressive Robinson at scrum-half. However, any hopes of an early second half revival were quashed just one minute in, as former Exeter University centre Tuima crossed for her side’s bonus point score after Heather Cowell had burst through a few lax tackles in the Exeter defence, feeding Tuima to race clear.
The heaven’s opened again, with both teams struggling to control an incredibly slippery ball. A huge collision in midfield between flanker Kate Zackary and Cowell saw Exeter snaffle possession and look to build phases near the Harlequins line. History repeated itself though, as they were unable to convert a promising position into points.
The size of the task grew even greater on 50 minutes as Harlequins scored their fifth of the afternoon through Lucy Packer, the scrum-half a grateful benefactor after a strong break in midfield from Sarah Beckett.
As the game moved into its final fifteen minutes, Chiefs began to display the urgency they had shown at the end of the first half. Two strong tackles in as many minutes from Cattell saw her get the better of both Harlequins centres, forcing a knock-on on both occasions.
This gave Chiefs another attacking opportunity that this time, they did not waste. Such poor conditions were never going to allow for glamorous running rugby and so it was no surprise to see Exeter’s first score come after a series of classy carries around the fringes from the pack, Olivia De Merchant the player to eventually make the final telling carry.
Exeter continued to look to press Harlequins, as they went in search of a second score. Further success at the breakdown thanks to a Zackary turnover led to one final opportunity for the Chiefs. With the clock in the red, the forwards kept the ball in hand, debutant Kayleigh Armstrong crossing with a carbon copy of De Merchant’s earlier effort. Cattell’s second successful conversion left the score at 33-14.
Harlequins: E Scott; H Cowell, L Tuima, R Burford (capt, I Mayhew 55) J Breach (B Wilcock 53); E Green, M Packer (T Braunerova 55); V Cornborough (T Viksten 53,) A Cockayne (E Bloor 53) S Brown (C Edwards 53); A Ward, F Fletcher; E Robinson, B Dainton (K Mew 39), S Beckett (A Sheffield 55)
Tries - Beckett, Brown, Cornborough, Tuima, Packer; Conversions - Green (4)
Chiefs: M Doidge; L Holland (L Burgess 62) L Cattell, G Cantorna, G Mackinder; T Black, F Robinson (P Garcia 35); M Roberts (L Delgado 41, J Thomas 65,) Tuttosi (Budge 52,) Leatherland (O De Merchant 20); P Leitch, M Hunt (K Armstrong 62,) Jefferies (D French 47) K Zackary, L Van der Velden (capt)
Tries - De Merchant, Armstrong; Conversions - Cattell (2)