Exeter Chiefs Women head coach Susie Appleby insists her side have ‘nothing to lose’ ahead of tomorrow’s Allianz Premier 15s clash away to table-topping Harlequins.
Although winless so far in their maiden season, Appleby saw plenty of positives again in last weekend’s narrow home defeat to Bristol Bears to give her plenty of encouragement before their clash at the Surrey Sports Park (2pm).
A strong opening salvo saw the Chiefs take an early lead before Bristol ran up a 24-5 advantage. Appleby’s side, however, showed terrific resolve in the second half, reducing the deficit to just two points, before a last-gasp conversion attempt fell just short of the target.
And it’s that second half display that the Chiefs must look to build from against the Londoners this weekend.
“It’s going to be tough,” said Appleby. “Harlequins are top of the table – and rightly so – and they are a very, very competent side. They’ve been in the finals the last few years and they are full of big ball-carriers, who bring a big power game.”
Two games in, though, the Chiefs are showing they are more than capable of holding their own at this level, a point underlined by their coach, who added: “We’re growing, we’re learning every single week where we get to know a little bit more about each other and about the game we’re trying to play. As long as we keep learning and progressing, that’s all we can ask. We want to bring everything to Quins this weekend because we’ve got nothing to lose.’
Last weekend’s second half performance against Bristol was filled with heart and courage and Appleby is delighted that she has managed to assemble a squad where ‘girls are really proud to wear the badge.’
Touching on that fighting spirit, Appleby noted: “Even though we’re very new, we’re two games in, you can see that [spirit] shining through and that they want to wear the Chiefs badge, they want to be part of something very, very special.
“Last week I thought we found our a feet a bit in the second half and we got that score which could have even the game up. I felt, though, we still had more in the tank, so it’s a bit frustrating we had to finish at 70 minutes.”
The positivity of her side is something that has also impressed Appleby and her coaching staff – and when talking about the prospect of continued progression, she recognised there is still plenty of growth and development to come.
“We’re building each week, but some of the girls almost want to run before they can walk,” she added. “They’re almost frustrated with performances which is good, it shows their ambition. Pride in the shirt is the biggest thing of all and you can’t coach that, you either have that and you can work with that or you haven’t and we have that in spades.’
That pride in the shirt will be no stronger than in Kayleigh Armstrong, Appleby confirming her first involvement of the season with the side. Her father Bob Armstrong previously played for Exeter Chiefs back in the days of the County Ground.
“Kayleigh’s a great player,” says Appleby, “She’s a local girl, good powerful runner, her dad has got the history with the Chiefs. For her, we talk about pride in the shirt, she has wanted to do this since she was a young girl.”
There will also be a family connection on the pitch this Saturday, Appleby confirming a first start for exciting young talent Flo Robinson, who will be facing her sister in the colours of Harlequins, something that Appleby whilst smiling asserts will be ‘an interesting match-up.’
On Robinson herself, Appleby has been impressed. “We’ve given her pitch time and she’s done really well, hasn’t looked out of place at all. She’s very quiet but quietly confident.”
With a number of changes to the side, Appleby insists that ‘those players who are starting fully deserve it, there’s nothing about rotation here. It’s all about who deserves to be in the shirt and they do.’
Amongst the new faces for the Chiefs are the returning Spanish international pair of Laura Delgado and Patricia Garcia-Rodriquez, Appleby confirming their inclusion on the bench for this weekend. However, she will be without Welsh trio Ffion Lewis, Abbie Fleming and Niamh Tery, who have all been called into their international camp ahead of the resumption of the 6 Nations.
Despite the loss of those players, Appleby is thrilled with their call-ups. She said: “It’s brilliant, they’re away with the squad, we don’t know selection yet but we wish them all the best. This was always going to be a funny season, players were always going to come and go and that’s the challenge, how can we move forward as a squad with those distractions.”
Exeter Chiefs Women’s Side to Face Harlequins
15. Merryn Doidge
14. Lottie Holland
13. Lauren Cattell
12. Gabby Cantorna
11. Garnet Mackinder
10. Taylor Black
9. Flo Robinson
1. Michaella Roberts
2. Emily Tuttosi
3. Lauren Leatherland
4. Poppy Leitch
5. McKinley Hunt
6. Ebony Jefferies
7. Kate Zackary
8. Linde Van der Velden (capt)
16. Charlie Budge
17. Olivia De Merchant
18. Jess Thomas
19. Laura Delgado
20. Kayleigh Armstrong
21. Daisy French
22. Patricia Garcia-Rodriquez
23. Louise Burgess