Lightning 28 Chiefs 25

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Loughborough Lightning 28

Exeter Chiefs 25

Harry Scott-Munro at Franklin’s Gardens

Sport can be cruel, oh so cruel.

With Exeter Chiefs having controlled most of the second half, it was Loughborough Lightning who claimed the spoils at Franklin’s Gardens, as a late double from Sadia Kabeya stunned the visitors and secured a bonus-point victory for the hosts that breathed new life into the Allianz Premier 15s play-off race.

The Chiefs scored three tries through co-captain Kate Zackary, Liv Jones and the imperious Hope Rogers, with Meg Foster adding ten points from the tee.

In the end though, it was that double from Kabeya, alongside tries from Charli Jacoby and Fran Goldthorp, plus a 100% record off the tee from Helena Rowland that undid the Chiefs.

Playing at Franklin’s Gardens for the first time, the rain from Storm Eunice may have passed, but the wind was still there for all to feel its bitter chill.

Heading into this one, Head Coach Susie Appleby was forced into something of a reshuffle due to injuries and international call-ups. With Brooke Bradley and Patricia Garcia both unavailable, Appleby named a new-look half-back pairing of Flo Robinson and Foster, while Clara Nielson and Jones also started.

Loughborough are a team on the up and, having had to readjust without talismanic centre Emily Scarratt for the majority of the season, they had been beginning to build up a head of steam as they look to add their name into the playoff equation.

It was the Chiefs who made the fast start, Robinson using her boot to drive the hosts back into their half. With Garcia and Gabby Cantorna both unavailable, fly-half Foster took over the kicking duties for this one, with her trusty right boot forcing the hosts back into their 22.

Not for the first time in the match though, the wind claimed its first victim, as Exeter’s line-out faltered, allowing Rowland to use the wind at her back to clear long.

Indeed, it was the hosts who would score first through Jacoby, after Rowland had kicked her side into a promising position. Keeping it tight, Loughborough finally broke down the Exeter defence, as Jacoby crashed over from close range, Rowland adding the conversion.

The hosts were beginning to enjoy themselves now, with Goldthorp finding space on the wing and bursting free, only for Jones to track back well and stop her former team-mate in her tracks.

Exeter were building nicely though, with handling errors the thing to let them down at the crucial moments. Indeed, there is no finer sight in the women’s game at the moment than Zackary bursting free from the base of a scrum and the USA captain was at it again here, beating defenders for fun and offloading to Kobayashi to drive up to the Loughborough 22.

Appleby’s side were continuing to build, with Kobayashi and Rogers at the forefront of all their good work. Their ferocity in attack and at the ruck was beginning to draw penalties from the hosts, but each time Exeter threatened, small errors would bite them.

The Chiefs suffered a blow when Zintle Mpupha had to be helped from the field with what looked to be a serious knock, however it would be shortly after that that they would open their account for the afternoon.

Again, the position came from Kobayashi’s awareness with the ball, as a clever kick from the Japanese centre forced Eloise Hayward to carry the ball back over her line. From there, the Chiefs set out their stall, Zackary crashing over from close range.

Loughborough would have the final say though from a pulsating half of rugby, as Goldthorp snaffled possession back in her own half and ran nearly 60 metres to snatch the lead going into halftime, as Exeter were unable to hold onto possession.


Needing to haul themselves back into the match, it was the Chiefs who were to make the fast start in the second 40. Hammering away at the Loughborough line, Exeter were unable to ground the ball, but Foster was on song from the tee to slot a penalty and reduce the deficit.

The Chiefs were right in the groove now, hassling and harrying their opponents at every ruck. That pressure forced Hayward to knock-on, giving the Chiefs a prime attacking position.

They used the opportunity to the fullest as well, as Jones raced over for a try against her former team after a breath-taking move had seen Kobayashi release her winger with a pin-point pass.

Exeter were at their flowing best now, as the pace of the game continued to rise. With Loughborough penalised for a high tackle on Nancy McGillivray, Foster continued to kick her side up the field.

Where opportunities weren’t quite sticking in the first half, they certainly were now, as Merryn Doidge found space on the wing, before cutting back inside. The Chiefs continued to build the pressure, hammering away at the try line in search of a third try. Loughborough would lose influential hooker Lark Davies to the bin in that phase, as she cynically stopped Robinson from playing the ball from the back of the ruck, with Foster adding another three points to extend the advantage.

Loughborough, though, are a team who don’t give in easily and they soon found themselves back in range of the Exeter try line, as a penalty in the middle of the field allowed Rowland to plant her side as close to the line as she possibly could.

For the Chiefs though, it was Rachel Johnson who was the hero, as she rose highest to steal the ball, allowing Robinson to clear. That let-off seem to drive the visitors into another gear, as they bullied their way up the field with a series of abrasive carries. Again, it was Rogers leading from the front, with the prop driving her side forward with fleet of foot and raw power. Linde van der Velden then used her height to drive towards the line, with Exeter securing yet another penalty, as Loughborough’s defence began to creak.

Perhaps aptly, it was Rogers who would score off of the penalty, as she tapped and drove over, Foster again adding the conversion to give her side an 11-point cushion.

That wasn’t to be the end of the drama though, as Loughborough began to turn the screw in search of a remarkable victory.

After Exeter had spurned possession after a quickly taken penalty at the scrum, Rowland kicked her side into Chiefs territory. With all hands to the pump, the Exeter defence was rock-solid, stopping the initial Loughborough maul. Eventually though, the sheer weight of pressure finally told, as Kabeya dived over from close range under the posts.

The pressure on the Chiefs was now undeniable and right at the end, that pressure told, with a penalty at the ruck allowing Rowland to kick her side back into range for a match-winning score.

It would be Kabeya again who made the telling impact, as she burst through a loose tackle in midfield to race over the line, Rowland adding the conversion.

There would still be one final opportunity from deep for the Chiefs, as Rowland kicked long rather than into touch with the clock in the red, but the hosts held on to claim a late, late victory.

Loughborough Lightning: F Goldthorp (G Tasker 66); C Williams; B Mataitoga, E Hardy; G Lingham; H Rowland, E Hayward (J Weaver 58); K Trevarthen, L Davies, C Jacoby (G Bourke 66); C Holtkamp (H Tauffou 76), L Ives Campion (A Duguid 66); S Svoboda (M Meuller 54), S Kabeya, S. Hunter (capt). Replacements (not used): I Curphey, B Westcombe-Evans

Tries - Jacoby, Goldthorp, Kabeya (2); Conversions - Rowland (4)

Yellow Card: Davies

Exeter Chiefs: M Doidge; J Detiveaux; Z Mpupha (N McGillivray 24), K Kobayashi; O Jones; M Foster, F Robinson; H Rogers (M Hunt 65), C Nielson, D Menin; P Leitch (co-capt), N Fryday (A Fleming 70); L van der Velden (E Jefferies 65), R Johnson, K Zackary (co-capt). Replacements (not used): D French, L Hanlon, M Davies, E Sinclair

Tries - Zackary, Jones, Rogers; Conversions - Foster (2); Penalties - Foster (2)

Referee: D Rowlands

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