Wasps Ladies 29 Chiefs Women 31

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Hat-trick hero McKinley Hunt celebrates her side's victory over Wasps Ladies with Exeter Chiefs Women's team-mate Poppy Leitch (4). Pictures: www.jmpuk.com

Wasps Ladies 29

Exeter Chiefs Women 31

Harry Scott-Munro at Twyford Avenue

Susie Appleby’s Exeter Chiefs wide were in ‘Seven Heaven’ after they recorded a memorable victory over Allianz Premier 15s rivals Wasps Ladies.

The Devonians notched their seventh league victory on the bounce to not only boost their own play-off aspirations, but at the same time put a dent in the aspirations of the Londoners, who are now just two points ahead of the Chiefs for a top four placing.

A hat-trick from Canadian lock McKinley Hunt, plus a fourth score from compatriot Taylor Black were complimented by a faultless kicking display from Gabby Cantorna, who added four conversions and a match-winning penalty.

Ahead of kick-off, head coach Appleby made just one personnel change to her starting line-up following last week’s mauling of DMP Durham Sharks. Into the side came Patricia Garcia, who was returning from suspension to start at scrum-half. Her inclusion meant Flo Robinson reverted to outside centre, while further reshuffling saw Merryn Doidge switch to the wing with Niamh Terry reverting to full-back.

Wasps, meanwhile, were in fine form themselves, having won six of their last seven matches. Off the back of last weekend’s victory over Saracens, they made two changes to their starting XV with Harriet Millar-Mills and Edel McMahon handed starting roles.

In sunny conditions in the capital, it was the hosts who flew out of the blocks, fly-half Megan Jones playing with all the time in the world as she left the Exeter defence at sixes and sevens. It was her initial break that created the opening for Celia Quansah to run in from halfway, the speedster latching onto a pass from Sammy Graham before showing a clean pair of heels to the Chiefs defence.

Despite that early setback, Chiefs stuck to their task. For all Wasps flair in the backs, it was the grunt up front from the Chiefs that drew them back into the match. After a huge initial carry from Sachiko Kato, the pack kept it tight, with second-row Hunt crashing over from close range, Cantorna converting to open up a 7-5 lead.

The response from the hosts was immediate though and again, it was Jones who was the heartbeat of her side’s performance. A kick in-behind from Garcia was met by Abbie Dow, the full-back feeding Jones who weaved her way through the Chiefs defence, offloading to centre Amy Wilson-Hardy for her side’s second score of the match.

Two minutes later, the centre was in again, Jones again the architect as she caused chaos in a bewildered Chiefs defence, offloading to Wilson Hardy to score. Jones again failed to add the extras but opened up a 15-7 lead for the hosts.

It looked like it would be a long afternoon for the Chiefs as Wasps scored their fourth through Quansah. This time, it was Kate Alder who cut the line, Jones adding another assist with a lofted pass out to her winger to score, converting at the fourth attempt to make it 22-7 after just 20 minutes.

Despite the scoreline, Chiefs had not really had a sniff in and around the Wasps try-line. When they did, they looked threatening every time and added their second of the day, through Hunt again following a quick tap penalty from Garcia, Cantorna converting to reduce the deficit to 22-14.

There was just enough time before the break for one last talking point from an action-packed first-half, as Olivia De Merchant saw yellow for an off the ball incident.


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Chiefs centre Gabby Cantorna looks to find a way through against Wasps Ladies

Whatever coaches Appleby and Amy Garnett said to their side at the break, it certainly did the trick, as they raced back into the match straight from the restart. American Kate Zackary gathered in her own 22, before racing down the wing, making nearly 70m with ball in hand.

Her break seized the momentum for her side, who crossed for their third on 38 minutes through Black. After another series of carries from the forwards, the ball was spun out to the fly-half, who dummied her defender and just had the strength to dot down, Cantorna again converting to reduce the deficit to a single point.

Wasps were also reduced to 14 players after hooker Hannah West saw yellow for repeat infringements at the breakdown.

Chiefs continued to apply the pressure, Doidge and Terry with some glorious breaks in the wide channels. After an initial surge from the pack was held up over the line, they made no mistake the second time around, Hunt crossing for her hat-trick after the resulting scrum had sent Wasps into reverse. Cantorna again converted to keep up her faultless display from the tee.

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Chiefs flanker Ebony Jefferies goes in where it hurts against Wasps Ladies

The topsy turvy nature of the game was there for all to see, as Wasps again looked to respond immediately. Chiefs defence has been supreme all season and it came up clutch again, Zackary affecting a turnover in the shadow of her own posts.

Wasps pressure finally told though, captain Alder crashing over from close range after a series of huge initial drives from her forward pack, Jones’ conversion taking her side into a 29-28 lead with 15 minutes to go.

The introduction of the returning Laura Delgado breathed new life into the Chiefs as they set about regaining the lead, with the Spanish prop a huge carrying presence for her side.

With four minutes to go, Chiefs looked to have gone over the line for a decisive score, only for the ball to be held up. From the resulting penalty, a huge drive from the pack drew a penalty, with the tee rushed onto the pitch for Cantorna to slot what would turn out to be a crucial penalty.

Nerves shredded, those involved on the sidelines for both sides could barely watch as Wasps secured a penalty with just over a minute remaining. With the kick just out of Jones’ reach, she went to the corner and the hosts set about pummelling away at a white-shirted defensive wall.

As the clock ticked into the red, they finally sensed space out wide, spinning it out to Alder, who looked for all money to be about to score a match-winning try.

For those on the Chiefs side though, they were able to blow a huge sigh of relief, as Cantorna came up with her second match-winning moment in as many minutes, dislodging the ball from Alder as she went to ground it, to seal a famous victory for Appleby’s side and keep the play-off dream firmly alive.

Wasps Ladies: A Dow; C Williams (E Kildunne 35) A Wilson-Hardy, K Alder (capt), C Quansah; M Jones, S Graham (L Nye 35); E Crake, H West, M Muir; R Burnfield (R Balogun 42), H Millar-Mills; E McMahon, S Kabeya, S Mitchelson (A Stock 43-48). Replacements (not used): H Ironton, M Ransley, F Williams, K Mason

Tries - Quansah (2) Wilson-Hardy (2) Alder; Conversions: Jones (2);

Yellow Card: West

Chiefs: N Terry; M Doidge, F Robinson, G Cantorna, G Mackinder (capt), T Black, P Garcia; O DeMerchant (L Delgado 55) E Tuttosi, S Kato; P Leitch, M Hunt; E Jefferies, R Johnson, K Zackary. Replacements (not used): J Kitlinski, M Roberts, A Fleming, R Moynihan, M Davies, G Gower, L Burgess

Tries - Hunt (3), Black; Conversions - Cantorna (4); Penalty - Cantorna

Yellow Card: DeMerchant

Referee: C Gayther

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