Susie Appleby’s Exeter Chiefs Women‘s team come into their first home Allianz Premier 15s encounter against Bristol Bears, determined to focus on the significant positives from last week’s encounter with Gloucester-Hartpury.
Despite receiving something of a wake-up call against a side featuring numerous international players, Appleby will be hoping the home comforts of Sandy Park serve her side well, when they take on a Bristol Bears sides devoid of opening weekend action after their game against Wasps was rescheduled following a positive Covid-19 test result.
Last week’s encounter against Appleby’s old side in Gloucester-Hartpury, saw Chiefs dominate the breakdown, despite a defensive lapse just after half-time that ultimately led to a defeat in their opening Allianz 15s encounter. Chiefs will want to tighten up their decision making across the park after mistakes ‘cost them three soft tries’ against Gloucester-Hartpury.
The recent addition of former Bristol Bears forward Poppy Leitch to the side is also a major boost. An ‘outstanding player and natural leader,’ Leitch will be bring a wealth of experience into the side, having represented her country at international level and clocked up numerous appearances for this weekend’s visitors in the Premier 15s.
Appleby also confirmed a first start for American Gabby Cantorna, after she impressed off the bench last weekend, as well as a place in the matchday side for young Welsh international Niamh Terry.
This weekend’s encounter will see the Chiefs come up against a Bristol side full of Welsh internationals. Despite the away side being unable to play last weekend, Appleby is in no doubt that the match will prove to be a ‘massive battle,’ against a side that are always a handful.
“Bristol are a side packed full of internationals, a lot of them Welsh,” said Appleby. “Obviously, we’ve got a few girls in our squad who have come to us from Bristol, so that adds an extra bit to things but, as we know, every game in this division is going to be a massive battle, a massive contest.
“They are going to be a side desperate to get out on the field, especially having not played last week, but we know they are going to be a handful. The challenge for us, however, will be more on focusing on ourselves and putting those little bits and pieces in place to improve our performance.
“Last week was a great starting point for us and there were lots of positives to take from the game. Now, we have to go and look to build on those and see how we go this weekend.”
Last week’s encounter with Gloucester-Hartpury shone a light on how far Chiefs have come in such a short space of time, with Appleby asserting that many people would’ve been pleasantly surprised at what [her side] put together in a few weeks. With Canadian prop forward Olivia De Merchant back in the mix as well, the competition for places within the side will only continue to develop as the season goes on.
“Olivia coming in is great news for us, just because she will bring real power off the bench,” added Appleby. “We’ve also got Gabby Cantorna starting in centre field. She’s outstanding, she’s tenacious, physical and will really add something. The disappointment is that Jennine [Duncan] has picked up an injury, but one misfortune offers an opportunity for someone else.”
Despite dominating the breakdown against Gloucester-Hartpury, Exeter’s set-piece was something of a concern, something the squad will be keen to improve upon for this weekend. The experience of playing at Sandy Park will be one that the majority of the squad has never experienced before, although Appleby will be hoping her side forget the importance of their surroundings and concentrate on the game from the off.
Although a lack of supporters will make for a somewhat alien atmosphere, this is another huge step in the journey of Exeter Chiefs women. Playing at Sandy Park only highlights further the seriousness with which Chiefs are taking the women’s programme.
The visitors for our first Westcountry derby in the Premier 15s will be playing their first fixture of the season, after last weekend’s clash with Wasps was postponed following a positive Covid-19 test. Last season, the Bears finished comfortably in mid-table, sitting in 7th place at the point the season was cancelled.
The likes of Jess Thomas and Merryn Doidge will be acutely aware of the threats Bristol will pose, having been a part of their squad before signing with Chiefs. The off-season saw the Bears sign a large cohort of Welsh talent, with speedster Jasmine Joyce sure to be earmarked by the Chiefs as a player to mark closely, with her ability to create something out of nothing in broken play making her a dangerous attacking outlet for the Bears.
Last week’s clash with Gloucester-Hartpury proved that Chiefs will be able to mix it with the established sides this season, however this week’s encounter against local rivals will give an even greater indication of where Chiefs could expect to find themselves, once the league falls into shape.
Appleby and her side were ‘pleased to get on the field and get started’ last weekend, after months of uncertainty around any potential restart. However, now they will be looking to put a marker down with their first points on the board. You can’t ask for a better match to try and do that in than a West Country Derby at home.
15 Merryn Doidge
14 Lottie Holland
13 Lauren Cattell
12 Gabby Cantorna
11 Garney MacKinder
10 Taylor Black
9 Ffion Lewis
1 Michaella Roberts
2 Emily Tuttosi
3 Satchiko Katoh
4 Abbie Fleming
5 McKinley Hunt
6 Ebony Jefferies
7 Kate Zackary
8 Linde van der Velden (capt)
16 Charlie Budge
17 Olivia De Merchant
18 Lauren Leatherland
19 Poppy Leitch
20 Daisy French
21 Flo Robinson
22 Niamh Terry
23 Louise Burgess
Thanks to Exeter Chiefs