Loughborough Lightning 14 Chiefs 7
Loughborough Lightning 14
Exeter Chiefs Women 7
Harry Scott-Munro at Haselgrave
It proved to be a case of lightning striking twice for Exeter Chiefs Women as, for the second match in succession, they came up just short against one of last season’s top four sides in the Allianz Premier 15s.
Despite leading 7-0 thanks to a converted McKinley Hunt try, hosts Loughborough Lightning struck back with tries from Rhona Lloyd and Lark Davies, both converted by Emily Scarratt, to secure the hard-fought victory.
After last weekend’s match with Saracens was postponed due to a Covid-19 outbreak within the Londoners squad, Chiefs’ head coach Susie Appleby was keen for her side to continue their impressive form they showed against Wasps In their last top-flight outing.
Like the Chiefs, Loughborough came into the match off the back of their own defeat to Wasps, going down 21-10 at Twyford Avenue in just their second loss of the season.
Appleby made two changes to the starting line-up, as Sachiko Kato came in for Michaella Roberts at loosehead prop and Abbie Fleming replaced Ebony Jefferies at blindside flanker.
On a freezing cold afternoon in the East Midlands, it was the hosts that began in the ascendancy, setting up camp in the Chiefs 22 after an early box-kick from Patricia Garcia had just slipped out on the full. Loughborough’s attack, though, were met by a ferocious Chiefs defensive effort that would become a feature of the afternoon. With Lightning still holding onto possession, they were hounded backwards, eventually spilling the ball in contact.
Both teams continued to challenge each other in the middle of the park, as defences dominated. Kato and Kate Zackary marshalled the Chiefs defence superbly, securing numerous turnovers and depriving Loughborough’s star-studded backline of any real opportunity to show their attacking prowess.
Lightning continued to have the better of the early territory and had their first meaningful opportunity on 12 minutes, as ill-discipline from the Chiefs gave them possession just outside the Chiefs 22. Defence continued to rule though as, Hunt and Poppy Leitch managed to hold the ball up in contact and secure the turnover.
This seemed to spur Chiefs on as they almost produced a try-scoring moment of their own moments later. A strong initial burst from Laura Delgado, saw her feed Gabby Cantorna who powered into the Lightning 22. The concession of a penalty by the hosts saw Chiefs gifted a golden opportunity with a line-out five metres out, but the opportunity went begging as the lineout went awry.
With chances few and far between, both teams were reliant on mistakes from the opposition to try and break down the defence. Loughborough’s opportunity seemed to have arrived when winger Lloyd pounced on a loose ball and set off up the field, only for a superb covering tackle from full-back Merryn Doidge to force her into touch and snuff out the chance.
In truth it was the Chiefs that dominated proceedings as the half went on, going close on 22 minutes after another Loughborough penalty had gifted the Chiefs prime attacking opportunity. A series of pick-and-goes almost bought just reward, only for the visitors to be penalised for sealing off.
That concession of the chance should’ve allowed Loughborough to clear their lines but their line-out let them down, before conceding yet another penalty on their 22. A quick tap from Garcia caught the hosts unawares, the Spaniard unlucky to not score herself. It mattered little though as in the next phase, second-row Hunt forced her way over the line from close range. Cantorna’s conversion opened up a 7-0 lead for the Chiefs with little under 10 minutes of the first half remaining.
They continued to assert themselves on the match, with Fleming and Lottie Holland carrying well in midfield and Laura Delgado continuing to hit hard in defence.
There was to be one last twist in the first half though as Lightning scored with time nearly up after a mix up in midfield for Chiefs. A looped pass was intercepted by Lighting centre Helen Nelson, the ball being worked wide to winger Lloyd, who stepped her defender and used her pace to race through. Scarratt’s conversion tied things up at 7-7.
Chiefs got stuck straight back into their opponents though, American forward Zackary doing superbly to win the ball back from the restart, with Lightning’s ill-discipline giving Cantorna an opportunity from 40m to regain the lead for her side at half-time. Despite being on target, her kick fell just short, leaving things delicately poised at the interval.
HALF-TIME LOUGHBOROUGH LIGHTNING 7 EXETER CHIEFS 7
As dusk began to fall over the Loughborough University Campus, the hosts emerged with renewed intent. Initially, the Chiefs seemed lost in the headlights as wave upon wave of purple enveloped would-be ball carriers.
An initial break from Lauren Cattell had put Chiefs in a promising position, but after giving up possession, Loughborough showed all the guile that has seen them become mainstays in the top four to set up an attacking position deep in the Chiefs 22.
Despite the best efforts of the Chiefs defensive effort, the pressure finally told, hooker Davies crashing over out wide for her side’s second score. An inch-perfect touchline conversion from Scarratt opened up a 14-7 advantage for the hosts and they looked to increase their advantage minutes later.
Chiefs appeared unable to get out of their own 22, as further attacking raids continued to challenge the Chiefs defence. They held firm superbly though to secure a turnover and clear up-field.
Moments later, Cattell perfectly read a Loughborough pass to intercept and race into the Loughborough 22, but it would prove to be another missed opportunity though as the ball was spilt in contact several phases later.
Lightning moved straight back into the pattern that had begun the second-half, camping themselves right on the Chiefs line. They thought they were in for a third score, only for Garcia to intercept and allow Chiefs to clear, much to the relief of the coaching staff and substitutes.
The Chiefs continued to look full of intent when they got their hands on the ball, winger Holland securing a turnover for her side, before finding herself with space to break out wide in the next phase. Her break took play up to the Loughborough 22, but supporting players were not quick enough to get to her, Chiefs conceding a penalty for holding on.
It was certainly a momentum shift though as a huge hit from Alex Powell saw Lightning spill the ball, Chiefs patiently working their way up to the 22 and winning a penalty that Cantorna put within 5m of the Lightning line.
An inability to convert in the red zone has haunted Chiefs at time this season and it did again here, as the line-out throw wasn’t straight, allowing the hosts to ease the pressure.
With the clock ticking ever closer to the red, Cattell’s sumptuous pass found Holland, who again burst into the Loughborough 22 to set up one last attacking opportunity for her side. Frustratingly, it again came to nothing as Lightning secured a turnover, before booting the ball downfield and camping themselves in the Chiefs 22.
With the clock in the red, the Chiefs looked to throw caution to the wind and attack from deep, only for a fumble to give up possession and bring about full-time.
Loughborough Lightning: A Brown; R Lloyd, E Scarratt, H Nelson (E Hardy 44,) E Ramsbottom; H Rowland, M Davey (E Wrywas 57); K Trevarthen (D Harper 39) L Davies (B Field 44) D Menin (L Bartlett 66); C Holtkamp, A Richmond (A Duguid 68); S Svoboda (R Noon 68) A Harper, R Malcolm. Replacement (not used): I Alejandro
Tries – Lloyd, Davies; Conversions – Scarratt (2)
Exeter Chiefs: M.Doidge; L Holland, L Cattell, G Cantorna, G Mackinder; T Black, P Garcia (F Lewis 56,) S Kato, E Tuttosi, L Delgado (M Roberts 49) P Leitch, M Hunt; A Fleming (A Powell 51) K Zackary, L Van der Velden (capt, E Jefferies 58). Replacements (not used): D French, K Armstrong, F Robinson, N Terry.
Try – Hunt; Conversion - Cantorna
Referee: H Walbaum