Leitch and Zackary to lead by example
By Harry Scott-Munro
Embarking on a second season as a team always has its challenges, but Susie Appleby’s Exeter Chiefs Women's side are as prepared as they can possibly be, bolstered by the news that the vastly experienced pair of Poppy Leitch and Kate Zackary will lead the side as co-captains for the 2021-22 season.
Last season, both were key cogs in an incredibly successful machine, as the Chiefs defied expectations in their debut season in the top flight of the English Women's game. The target now, however, is to continue to look upwards in the league and propel themselves into contention for the playoffs.
Upon naming the pair as co-captains, Head Coach Appleby praised the “world class" leadership experience of Zackary and the team togetherness instilled by Leitch.
“Kate brings leadership experience that is world class; she captains the USA Eagles and is an incredible leader; she is professional in everything she does,” admitted Appleby. “Poppy is also a natural leader, she has an excellent understanding of the game. She displays real empathy for our younger players and has really driven the ‘family first’ feeling across the squad. Her maturity belies her years.”
Looking back at that debut campaign, flanker Zackary admitted that her side “played well as a new team,” although she conceded that they “left too many games without key bonus-points.”
Big things are expected of such a talented playing squad this season with both Leitch and Zackary admitting that the challenge of reaching the play-offs is one that their side are ready for and focused on, especially within an ever-improving league.
“We have such a special group of players and staff who all want to play their part in making this club the best in the league,” explains Leitch. “I have no doubt that this season is going to be hugely competitive across all ten teams in the league. We are looking forward to the challenge and I have no doubt that we will push for the top four this year.”
Leitch and Zackary take on the role from last season’s captain Linde van der Velden with Zackary paying tribute to the work of the Dutch international.
“Linde left us big shoes to fill - literally and figuratively! She did a fantastic job leading the team throughout our debut season.”
The sentiment was one that was shared by Appleby, who praised van der Velden for the job she did in the side’s debut Premier 15s season, acknowledging that she had “set the bar high" for Leitch and Zackary.
Both players have considerable leadership experience behind them, with Zackary the captain for the American national side and Leitch working as Head Coach for Exeter University’s Women’s Rugby team.
Ahead of the campaign, both players paid tribute to each other’s credentials, also expressing their pride at being asked to lead the group for the 2021-22 Allianz Premier 15s campaign.
“It was a real honour to be named as co-captain of the team alongside Kate,” explained Leitch. “She has a huge amount of captaincy experience, and I am excited to develop my captaincy skills alongside her.”
Zackary was similarly complimentary of her co-captain’s impact on the side, whilst also expressing her appreciation for the trust placed in her by Susie Appleby and the rest of the coaching staff.
“I look forward to working alongside Poppy this season. She has so much knowledge and passion for the game. Last year she led from the front on the pitch with her work rate, and off the pitch through detailed analysis. I also appreciate Susie trusting us to lead the team each week.”
With interest in women’s rugby continuing to grow rapidly as the game gains more and more exposure, Zackary is adamant that she wants to make sure her side continue to lay the foundations for further success in the future.
“I hope we not only make the fans proud but inspire the next generation of women's players who will wear the Exeter Chiefs badge next.”