Saracens Women 32 Chiefs Women 19
Saracens Women 32
Exeter Chiefs Women 19
Harry Scott-Munro at StoneX Stadium
Saracens Women inflicted their own version of capital punishment on visiting Exeter Chiefs, who were unable to make it four wins on the spin in this season’s Allianz Premier 15s.
The Londoners produced a clinical performance to dispatch of Susie Appleby’s side, who had come into the game on the back of victories against Sale Sharks, Harlequins and Wasps in recent weeks.
Brooke Bradley’s early score gave the visitors the perfect start, but it was a rare high point in a first half in which Sarries dominated proceedings. Further scores from Ebony Jefferies and Flo Robinson after the break gave hope that the Chiefs could potentially salvage something, but sadly it was not to be.
Instead, it was scores from Chantelle Miell, Hannah Botterman and a double from Poppy Cleall, along with 12 points from the boot of Zoe Harrison, that proved enough to secure the home side a fifth successive bonus point win in as many games.
After a superb victory the previous week against Wasps, Head Coach Appleby made one enforced change to her starting XV, with Clara Nielson starting at hooker in place of the injured Emily Tuttosi. Amongst the replacements, Daisy French and new signing Zintle Mphupa were involved for the first time this season.
Saracens came into the fixture off the back of a bonus-point win away to Worcester Warriors and they paid tribute to club stalwart Sonia Green before kick-off, the second-row receiving a standing ovation on the day of her 300th appearance.
As kick-off approached at the StoneX Stadium, the sun threatened to show its face and it was the Chiefs who basked in its early warmth, as they made a lightning start to the match. Winger Jennine Duncan offered their first threat, racing onto a pin-point kick, before charging into the Saracens 22, only to eventually pushed into touch.
Minutes later though, the Chiefs would make the most of their fine start, scrum-half Bradley spotting a gap around the Saracens ruck defence and racing in from 20 metres, Gabby Cantorna converting for a dream start for her side.
However, the Saracens response was instant, as the hosts capitalised on an Exeter breakdown penalty. After working their way into the Chiefs 22, the hosts surged forward through a driving maul, before spinning the ball wide for wing Miell to dive over, Harrison levelling proceedings from the tee.
At this point, it was an even, physical encounter, with both sides probing and asking questions. The Chiefs continued to make a positive impression on the match, building phases in the Saracens half, before the errors started to creep in.
At the end of the first quarter, Saracens would score their second through Cleall, as the Chiefs were found to be in front of Cantorna, as she looked to kick for touch. Saracens are clinical at the best of times, especially when you present them with free opportunities, and they made no mistake here.
With wave after wave of Saracens attack hitting the Chiefs defensive line, Cleall eventually burst the dam, Harrison again converting.
Exeter penalties continued to be their downfall, as Saracens continued to gain an advantage at the maul; Harrison adding a penalty for her side to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
On the half hour mark, the Chiefs finally managed to get their hands on the ball, Cantorna putting her side five metres from the Saracens line. But errors continued to let them down, as the line-out went awry, and Saracens were let off the hook.
With time ticking away at the end of the first half, centre Kanako Kobayashi almost found Duncan with another cross-field kick, which just evaded the wingers grasp. Much to the frustrations of the Chiefs though, the bounce of the rugby ball favoured the hosts, allowing Cleall to gather and dart off down the wing.
They were to make the most of the opportunity right at the end of the half too, as they hit Exeter with a sucker punch. As they continued to ask questions in attack, Hannah Casey offloaded to prop Botterman, who showed a clean pair of heels to race in for her teams’ third try.
HALF-TIME: SARACENS 22 EXETER CHIEFS 7
As the second period began, the Devonians were nearly hit with another sucker punch. As Saracens continued the speed of ball that saw them pressurise the Chiefs in the first half, they spread the ball wide to Sarah McKenna in space. Fortunately for the Chiefs, the usually reliable full-back spilt the ball with the space at her mercy.
The Chiefs were stuck in their half, as Saracens continued to apply the pressure. They continued to threaten around the visitors 22, with a Robinson intercept arriving at a crucial time for her side to kill the Saracens momentum.
With 50 minutes on the clock, the pressure finally told, as Saracens crossed for their bonus-point score. After a hard line from Lotte Clapp had created the space, Holly Aitchison looked to kick through. Kobayashi got a hand to the ball to half charge down the ball but again, the bounce of the ball was with the home side.
This time, McKenna showed a safe pair of hands to gather and hold. Saracens then built the phases, Cleall hitting a hard line to crash over for her second.
Up against it and with just a quarter of the match remaining, the Chiefs finally clicked back into life. A brilliant take around her ankles from Laura Sheehan kept her side in possession, before the lively Patricia Garcia, on as a half-time substitute, raced into the Saracens 22 from a quick tap penalty.
For the first time since the game’s opening exchanges, the Chiefs had the attacking momentum on their side and it finally told, Ebony Jefferies picking a sumptuous line off of Kobayashi to dot down for their second try.
Minutes later, Sheehan and Kobayashi were again at the heart of everything good in the Chiefs attack. With space out wide, the centre chipped through for Sheehan, who in turn grubbered the ball past McKenna and raced through. Frustratingly for the Chiefs, the ball just beat the winger, as it bounced dead.
With the game ticking away, Harrison slotted another penalty for her side, before Exeter had the final word. A lovely break from Sachiko Kato created space for the Chiefs attack, with the pack continuing to build the phases. Eventually, the ball found its way to Robinson to race in for the Chiefs but by that point it was too little too late.
With the clock in the red, the Chiefs continued to hold onto the ball, as they searched for an opportunity to grab a fourth try and with it the hope of two potential bonus-points. Sadly, it came to nothing as a knock-on sealed a victory for Saracens, leaving Exeter with a disappointing taste at the final whistle.
Saracens: S McKenna; C Miell; H Casey (C Wardle 65), H Aitchison; L Clapp (capt); Z Harrison, E Wyrwas; H Botterman (R Clark 60), M Campbell (K Evans 71), D Rose (K Clifford 52); S Green (J Slevinsky 60), G Evans; V. Fleetwood, M Packer, P Cleall (J Rettie 72, S Bebbington 77). Replacement (not used): C Waters.
Tries - Miell, Cleall (2), Botterman; Conversions: Harrison (3); Penalty: Harrison (2)
Yellow Card: Aitchison
Exeter Chiefs: M Doidge; J Duncan (O Jones 62); K Kobayashi (Z. Mphupa 66), G Cantorna; L Sheehan; F Robinson, B Bradley (P Garcia 40); O De Merchant (S Kato 55), C Nielson (D. French 74), D Menin (L Delgado 66); P Leitch (co-capt), L van der Velden (A Fleming 51); E Jefferies (M Allen 66), R Johnson, K Zackary (co-capt)
Tries: Bradley, Jefferies, Robinson; Conversions: Cantorna (2)
Referee: N O’Donnell