Source: Exeter Chiefs

Intense Drama in the South-West

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Allianz Premier 15s 2022 Semi-finals

The Sandy Park game had all the drama and emotion that the StoneX game lacked.

It saw an astonishing comeback by Bristol Bears from a half-time deficit of 21-12 – and that had been even wider at 21-0.

In the London match-up this season’s results had been: 36-17 to Quins at the StoneX; 22-8 to Sarries at the Stoop. So this time round?

Saracens v Harlequins

The heat reminded us how late in the season this was. The rockets and the red smoke made it even hotter for the visitors, but they got off to the better start. A penalty brought them close to the line, but a first catch-and-drive failed to work, a portent of what was to come.

The next moment Sarries were at the other end of the field showing them how to do it. The magic ingredient was Poppy Cleall who spotted the ball lying in front of her and was over. (5-0)

A second move was very different: Sarries spread the ball wide right for Alycia Harrigan to work it back inside. There was Marlie Packer to finish the job. (12-0) England’s two deadliest loose forwards making all the difference.

Quins were far more accident-prone than they had planned, their breakdown clearances slow, and the backs couldn’t be relied on to make the right choices. Lagi Tuima did achieve a fine half-break, but was still prone to unforced errors like passes into thin air.

The Quins back-line is as close to a first-choice England selection as you can imagine, but the number of times they really opened the throttle could be counted on one hand. Even the reliable Rachael Burford hoisted a chip into the opposition 22 where it handed possession over.

Alev Kelter nudged the hosts further ahead with a penalty. (15-0)

Quins scored their first try when Kelter was yellow-carded. Amy Cokayne timed her final pass to Jess Breach on the blind-side, but she had to dot down at once so no conversion from the left edge. (15-5)

They thought they had their second (so did the referee!) as a wonderful break saw Breach race down to touchline and feed inside to Ellie Kildunne. She finished under the posts, and Quins fans breathed again.

But then an AR intervened to question that last pass. Yes, it was well forward.

Now Tuima chipped the ball into the Sarries’ 22 only for Lotte Clapp to claim it and set off. Result: a second try for Cleall, and a half-time score of 22-5.

Sarries almost out of sight.

Quins fell further behind when Lucy Packer had the misfortune to see a box-kick charged down. Sarries drove and May Campbell added to her harvest of tries. Packer didn’t have the happiest of days, and there must be concerns about her position as the No 3 scrum-half in the country. (27-5)

Kelter knocked over another penalty to put the hosts out of reach.

Amy Cokayne completed what is laughably called a consolation try, but there was little to console the visitors.

The truth is that the loss of Abbie Ward and Leanne Infante to the west country has hit them harder than they care to admit. Their replacements are all internationals, but not (yet) of the same standing.

The ‘Famous Quarters’ were absent from parade once again!

This was Gerard Mullen’s last game in charge.


Saracens 30 Harlequins 10

Player of the Match: Poppy Cleall



McKenna; Harrigan, Kelter, Casey, Clapp (co-c); Aitchison, Wyrwas; Botterman, Camopbell, Clifford; Cleall, McIntosh; Carson, Fleetwood, Packer M. (co-c)


Evans, Rose, Ellis, Green, Rettie, Goddard, Wardle, Vaughan-Fowler


Kildunne; Cowell, Tuima, Burford (captain), Breach; Scott, Packer L.; Cornborough, Cokayne, Brown; Galligan, Bonar; Mew, Harper, Beckett


Bloor, Viksten, Edwards, Fletcher, Brooks, Aucken, Green, Mayhew

Referee: Nikki O’Donnell
ARs: TBC and Ian Bibey
TMO: Dean Richards

Exeter Chiefs v Bristol Bears

This game had all the tension and passion that StoneX lacked. Chiefs strode into a 21-0 lead, all three tries to the forwards, Hope Rogers (2) and Linde van der Velden. The fans exulted and the drums throbbed.

But Bears, unlike Quins, responded. Hannah West completed their first big drive, then Abbie Ward, sensing another drive had stopped too early, fed Keira Bevan for a snap try.

In the second half Bears completed the only fluent backs move of the game for Phoebe Murray to sail in unopposed.

Seven minutes to go and – horror of horrors (for home fans)! – West was in for her second helping and the Bears were ahead for the first time.
The next moment they found themselves defending desperately. As the clock wound towards the red zone, the Chiefs’ pack, led by the exemplary Kate Zackary, drove at the Bears’ line.

Flo Robinson then darted at the blind-side, in a move made famous this season by Laure Sansus. The defence was one short and Jennine Detiveaux was the beneficiary.

An outpouring of emotion, not least from the head coach.


Exeter Chiefs 28 Bristol Bears 24



Doidge; Sinclair, Kobayashi, Cantorna, Detiveaux; Garcia, Robinson; Rogers, Tuttosi, Menin; Fryday, van der Velden; Leitch, Johnson, Zackary (captain)


Nielson, Hunt, Roberts, Jefferies, Senft, Bradley, Foster, McGillivray


Powell; Hesketh, Murray, Reed, (co-c) Keight; Skuse, Bevan; Pam, West, Bern; Burns, Ward (co-c); Butchers, Johnes, Lillicrap

Phillips, Kill, Mulhearn, John, Nigrelli, Burgess, Snowsill, Lovibond

Referee: Charlie Gayther
ARs: Simon Adams and Peter Brunt
TMO: Sara Cox

Final: Exeter Chiefs v Saracens, Sixways, Worcester, Friday 3 June (your extra Platinum-plated holiday)


The draw for the last four meant that Saracens and Quins could not continue their domination of the finals.

In the long term that is all for the best. Nothing worse than having a competition where one, at the best two, teams compete for the top prize every year. Bayern Munchen are a prime case in the Bundesliga.

The two new semi-finalists had taken diametrically opposite routes to this stage.

Bristol Bears were constant under-achievers over the first four years of the competition. They then had a big turnover of staff and players, gave themselves a new training-centre, built a large new following and have flourished.

Exeter Chiefs were the brainchild of Tony Rowe, who oversaw the rise of the men’s team to the pinnacle of English men’s rugby, then extended his sights to the women’s sector.

The one concern about their advance is its dependence on overseas players to provide the quality needed for success at the top level. Once more, only three England-qualified players took the field.

The lack of tries in the wide open spaces mirrored the pattern of England’s game against France. Tries from driven mauls come to look all too easy when in such profusion. Just two tries to the wide backs today, Breach and Murray.