Bristol made it four out of four with a win over pointless Sale Sharks. Phoebe Murray got the ball rolling inside ten minutes with her seventh try of the season. By half-time (22-7) the writing was on the wall.
Though Sharks did well to peg the hosts back to 27-17 by the end, it leaves the Bears equal top. But Dave Ward will know theirs has been a relatively gentle introduction to the new season; they have yet to meet any of last year’s top 4. They face their first big test next week away to Quins.
Player of the Match: Simi Pam
The two live stream games both showed the AP 15s in its best light
Exeter Chiefs v Wasps
The Chiefs met Wasps as the rain fell relentlessly on Devon. Handling became a lottery; the precision of the kicking was central to progress. Wasps scored first and last, but they came under more and more pressure at the scrum.
Giselle Mather had radically altered the shape of her team again, Abby Dow removed to the bench in a last-minute adjustment. It can’t have helped Maud Muir’s cause that she was shifted to loose-head where she had the doubtful pleasure of facing DaLeaka Menin, part of an all-Canadian front row. Indeed, you might fancy renaming the Chiefs the World XV for the rest of the season.
Merryn Doidge showed fine positional sense as Claudia Macdonald hoisted many box-kicks which failed to hit grass. Only when Flo Williams changed the diet with low rakers did Wasps really make ground through kicking.
After 20 minutes Chiefs got right over the line, but somehow Wasps managed to retrieve and clear.
Now Amy Wilson Hardy, one of two GB Sevens players to turn out after their romp in Canada (Heather Cowell the other), finished a delightful move, helped by a great off-load from Ellie Boatman. It was their first visit to Chiefs’ 22.
Either side of half-time Gabby Cantorna put penalties over to nudge the hosts in front. Patricia Garcia’s entry upped their pace noticeably. She tapped a penalty, fed Menin and the powerful prop brushed off tackles to storm over. (13-8)
The game ran away from Wasps as their pack couldn’t match the strength facing them. As soon as Harriet Millar-Mills was yellowed for persistent infringements, Rachel Johnson was over (20-8) Cantorna added a further three points, before Wasps showed again their talent for open play. A fine move was finished by Boatman sliding over in the right corner.
Player of the Match: Kate Zackary
Gloucester-Hartpury v Quins
The rain did relent after a while at Hartpury to offer the crowed a thrilling spectacle. Gloucester-Hartpury really took the game to Quins, now known as the Famous Quarters – publicists, take a bow – driving them off the scrum and creating moves that the defence had difficulty in checking. This was the single most pleasing feature of their game, the pack proving that it could hold and master strong opposition.
Mo Hunt was at the heart of everything, running off scrums and rucks to create gaps and doubts.
Kelly Smith exploited a lovely move with a typical finish (5-0), but Ellie Kildunne created another solo score of the highest class to finish under the posts. (5-7)
G-H responded at once with another glorious move, a second for Smith on the right. (10-7)
There was a desperately sad sight as Rosie Galligan was led off the field on a stretcher. Hardly credible that she should suffer yet another setback after the tribulations she has undergone.
Gerard Mullen invited Amy Cokayne and Tove Viksten to come on after half-time; that at once restored Quins’ parity at the scrum and their drives grew more menacing.
Sarah Bonar celebrated her debut with a try (18-14), and a tight game grew tighter.
On 78 minutes Shaunagh Brown completed a huge Quins drive with a thrust over the line to clinch the match.
This was a desperate disappointment for G-H, but tiny errors can have big consequences. It isn’t wise for forwards to offer no-look passes on a day like this. They will be heartened by their achievements fore and aft but know they must put all their chances away. They opted for a penalty kick to the corner rather than offering Emma Sing another pot at goal. She played thoroughly well.
Player of the Match: Zoe Aldcroft
Saracens, who are coming under new ownership, their third in under two years, saw off Worcester Warriors at Sixways, to join Bristol at the top of affairs.
DMP and Lightning both started pointless. DMP were strengthened by the return of two Scottish internationals, Lisa Cockburn and Abi Evans, but they could make no difference to the fearful plight the club finds itself in – they are hunting now for a new team manager. Lightning, introducing a number of less familiar faces, kept a clean sheet to get their season moving forward.
Two Red Roses reappearing on their respective benches after lengthy injuries were Jess Breach and Hannah Botterman.
Amy Cockayne was allowed to wait for her return after helping United Kingdom Armed Forces (UKAF) to ensure a decisive win (27-14) over France Militaire Rugby Féminin in Portsmouth in mid-week. She chalked up a hat-trick and an assist. Rare though this victory was, it was always on the cards, the side containing a large number of players familiar to the AP 15s. To match UKAF’s two Red Roses (Carys Williams the other) the French side could boast just Arkya Ait Lahbib, the international tight-head.
Bristol Bears 27 Sale Sharks 17
DMP Durham Sharks 0 Loughborough Lightning 59
Exeter Chiefs 23 Wasps 13
Gloucester-Hartpury 18 Harlequins 21
Worcester Warriors 5 Saracens 34
Bristol Bears Women v Sale Sharks Women
Referee: Andrew Wigley
ARs: Oli Carey and David Philpot
DMP Durham Sharks v Loughborough Lightning
Referee: Nia Parsonage
ARs: Adam Morrison and Paul Fincken
Exeter Chiefs Women v Wasps Women
Referee: Dan Rowlands
ARs: Ben Wood and Andy Bickle
Gloucester-Hartpury v Harlequins Women
Referee: Nikki O’Donnell
ARs: Tom Evans-Jones and Bradley Bignell
Worcester Warriors Women v Saracens Women
Referee: Charlie Gayther
ARs: Peter Connor and Fiona Brunt
with thanks to rugbyreferee.net
Table P W L Pts
Bristol 4 4 0 20
Saracens 4 4 0 20
Harlequins 4 3 1 14
Exeter 4 3 1 14
Gloucester-H 4 2 2 12
Wasps 4 2 2 11
Worcester 4 1 3 7
Loughborough 4 1 3 5
Sale 4 0 4 1
DMPDS 4 0 4 0