Sharks Women 0 Chiefs Women 19
Sale Sharks Women 0
Exeter Chiefs Women 19
Harry Scott-Munro at Heywood Road
In wind and rain that would challenge even the most ardent of rugby fan, it was Susie Appleby’s Exeter Chiefs who reigned as queens of the north, opening their Allianz Cup campaign with a hard-fought 19-0 victory over Sale Sharks Women.
A double from Maisy Allen, plus an early score from Clara Nielson, two of which were converted by Patricia Garcia were enough for the Chiefs, as they left the Sharks scoreless for the second time this season.
After a defeat to Saracens in their last league match and, with a number of players away on international duty, the cup competition allowed Appleby to refresh her squad, handing club debuts to no less than seven players, as they made the long trip north.
The rain gods were not looking kindly on both sets of players, as the heavens decided to open to biblical proportions just as both sides made their way out onto the field. The Chiefs had dispatched their hosts 54-0 in their most recent encounter in the league at Sandy Park and this was a similarly dominant display from the Devonians in challenging conditions.
In the early exchanges, it was the Chiefs who looked to make the fast start, as the pack set the tone for the rest of the match with an early scrum penalty. Just three minutes into the match, the Chiefs were over for their first score, Nielson the beneficiary of a superb driving maul from the pack to cross from close range, Garcia converting to silence the vocal Sale Sharks support.
The old adage goes that in wet conditions, the ball is like a bar of soap, and it proved so straight from the restart, as Exeter struggled to control Lizzie Duffy’s restart. The young fly-half then put her side within range of the visitors line, as their pack looked to try and force their way over. As Sale continued to hammer the Chiefs line, Allen produced a timely turnover for her side to avert the danger.
Whilst both sides struggled to create any real attacking phases as the rain continued to lash down, Exeter went close to their second soon after, after a brilliant initial carry from Eilidh Sinclair, who was finally able to pull on a Chiefs shirt for the first time, created the opening out wide for Merryn Doidge, who powered through a tackle up towards the Sale try line, only for the ball to be held up over the line a few phases later.
Appleby's side continued to ask questions though with Garcia orchestrating proceedings from fly-half. As the match reached the end of its first quarter, the Spaniard floated a beautifully weighted kick into the path of Doidge to chase. The winger gathered the ball superbly, but was unable to tip-toe her way down the touchline, as her foot just caught the whitewash.
Clean line breaks were hard to come by for both sides, but it was the Chiefs who made more of those opportunities, as a break from Abby Middlebrooke again put Exeter deep inside the Sale 22, only for a handling error to cost her side in the next phase. It was perhaps not surprising that there were as many handling errors as there were considering the conditions, but both sides would have still been disappointed to have not been able to hold onto the ball with more regular frequency.
HALF-TIME: SALE SHARKS WOMEN 0 EXETER CHIEFS 7
The rain somewhat abated as the second-half got underway and as the conditions improved, so did Exeter’s advantage, as Allen scored her first of the afternoon from close range soon after the restart.
A series of penalties against the hosts allowed the Chiefs to kick themselves up field, as their front-row dominance continued to trap the Sharks in their own half. From a line-out in the Sale 22, it proved a case of third time lucky for the pack, as the pick and go game was finally rewarded with a score from Allen, as she muscled her way over from close range.
Garcia was unable to convert the try, Sale charging down her kick, but Exeter’s dominance was now showing on the scoreboard.
As the half progressed, it was the hosts who started asking the questions of the Chiefs defence, as they looked to haul themselves back into the match. The Chiefs defence though, was in a dominant mood, as Ebony Jefferies popped up with a huge tackle to force a knock-on.
Exeter’s scrum continued to dominate, with the referee eventually losing her patience with the Sale front-row on the hour mark, prop Hannah Davis being sent to the bin.
It was from that penalty that Exeter would score their third of the afternoon. Off the back of another slick line-out, the pack kept it tight, working their way around the fringes, with strong carries from Charlie Willett and co-captain Poppy Leitch, before Allen eventually bundled the ball over from close range for her second of the afternoon, Garcia adding another two points from the tee.
By now, the opportunity to secure victory had passed Sale by, but that didn’t stop them from continuing to barge down the Exeter defensive wall.
On a day of impressive performances, especially from debutants, centre Nancy McGillivray came up with a huge tackle on Lizzie Duffy, to force a knock-on from the young fly half.
As time ticked away on the clock, both sides struggled to hold on to possession, as the rain threatened to return, but by this point, Exeter had done more than enough to secure a morale-boosting victory, to open their Allianz Cup campaign in positive fashion.
Sharks: R Woosey; H Bawden (V A Irwin 50); L Thomson (L Perrin 47), A Calton; E Tonkin; L Duffy, M Grieve; A Abu Marzouq (H Walton 70), S Wilson (M Ridgway 70), K Houghton (H Davis 54); B Stafford (G Perris-Redding 40), N Howat; V E Irwin (T Wyn Davies 50), R McLachlan, D Hibbert-Jones. Replacement (not used): W. Bell
Chiefs: C Rollie; O Jones (G Mackinder 55); L Holland (C Woodman 73), N McGillivray; M Doidge; P Garcia (B Bradley 69), F Robinson; A Middlebrooke (M Roberts 70), C Nielson (D French 76), L Delgado (J Thomas 76); P Leitch, C Willett (K Armstrong 64); E Jefferies, E Sinclair (A McCarthy 76), M Allen
Tries: Allen (2), Nielson; Conversions: Garcia (2)
Referee: N. Parsonage