After a hugely successful start to their time in the Allianz Premier 15s, now Allianz PWR, Exeter Chiefs Women are looking to kick on and solidify their place at the summit of Women's Rugby.
Last season saw Susie Appleby's side claim a second Allianz Cup crown and reach a consecutive league final. The team are the club’s first-ever affiliated women’s team. For some time, Exeter Rugby Club Chief Executive, Tony Rowe OBE, together with Director of Rugby, Rob Baxter, had explored the idea of creating a women’s team at Sandy Park – and the fruits of their labour were revealed with plans back in September 2019.
The side is coached by Head Coach Susie Appleby, who joined Exeter Rugby Club from Gloucester-Hartpury Women’s team where she had been in a similar role since 2014. Former England scrum-half Appleby retired from playing in 2007, winning 65 international caps for her country, after making her debut in 1994. The side is made up of a combination of local talent and international stars, with former England international Poppy Leitch leading the side as captains for the 2023-24 season.
The successes of the side last season have seen players reap the rewards at international level, with young England players Merryn Doidge, Maisy Allen and Nancy McGillivray currently part of the wider senior England squad, with Claudia MacDonald a regular starter for the national side. The side is also made up of international players from the United States of America, Canada, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Japan, with those international players and local talent working in unison to provide consistently strong performances on the field.
This season, there has been an influx of new talent into the squad, with internationals Kanako Kobayashi, Alex Tessier, Olivia Ortiz and Harriet Millar-Mills joining a number of exciting English players in the squad, adding to the strength in depth and options available to Appleby and her coaching staff.
Looking towards the future of the programme, the team also has a strong relationship with Exeter University, where current captain Leitch also acts as Head Coach for their women’s programme, with a large number of the current squad either currently studying at the university or having previously studied there.
Scottish International Eilidh Sinclair also heads up the newly formed Centre of Excellence, which is an integral part of assessing, supporting and developing U18 players on their rugby journey. The programme is run in collaboration with the RFU, allowing more girls the opportunity to progress through the England pathway. The Exeter Chiefs Centre of Excellence is the next stage of the Devon and Cornwall counties programme. Both counties will nominate players that they feel can develop through the pathway, using a set of criteria designed by the RFU. These players then go through a trial stage at the Centre of Excellence, with a group selected from these trials to partake in the programme from September-May.
With the success of the team on the field and a large number of talented young players coming through the ranks, the future certainly looks bright for Susie Appleby's side. Follow the Official Exeter Chiefs Women on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram!
For more information on Women's Rugby in England, visit the England Rugby Homepage
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