Elise Hamersley takes a look at how the the newly formed Exeter Chiefs Women’s team have been getting on in their debut Allianz Premier 15s season.
In April 2020 it was confirmed that the newly formed Exeter Chiefs Women’s side had been successful in their bid to join the then branded Tyrells Premier 15s league, now Allianz Premier 15s, for the coming three seasons (2020/21-2022/23). They made their ground-breaking league debut this season against Gloucester-Hartpury on the 10th October.
Over a year in the making, Chiefs brought in former women’s internationals Susie Appleby and Amy Garnett as their senior coaching team for this promising new squad back in 2019. Appleby enjoyed a long and successful career, playing for England at the 1998 and 2002 World Cups; enjoying a successful coaching stint with Gloucester-Hartpury. Garnett remains England’s most-capped hooker with 100 caps, the first English women to reach that milestone.
The experienced duo have faced a unique challenge, dealing with the combination of a newly formed squad, supporting team and culture as well as the added restrictions surrounding Covid-19. The women’s game in particular has been significantly impacted by new rules originating from the pandemic, including 35 minute halves, fewer scrums due to free kicks given for a forward pass and no scrum option at a free-kick or penalty.
The new side includes a diverse mix of local talent, such as winger Garnet Mackinder, and international additions, such as Netherlands back-row and club captain Linde van der Velden. Other players hail from Spain, North America and Japan, as well as multiple current and former Exeter University students in the fray with Ebony Jeffries, Poppy Leitch, Jessica Thomas (pictured below), Merryn Doidge and Charlie Budge looking to help secure success this season.
As the Premiership entered Round 4, Chiefs women were yet to secure a win, having suffered defeat against Gloucester-Hartpury (34-14), Bristol Bears (24-22) and current league leaders Harlequins Women (33-14) . However, despite only playing a total of three Premiership fixtures together, following a distinctively unique preseason, Chiefs displayed a series of promising and impressive moments throughout these games. Their fantastic comeback in the second half against Bristol Bears lead them to secure two bonus points and reveals massive grit and potential for success in this league for the coming seasons.
This potential was actualised last weekend, with Chiefs obtaining their first victory against Worcester Warriors (19-7). Following a rest weekend due to the culmination of the 2020 Women’s Six Nations, Exeter put on a confident performance, with tries from Emily Tuttosi, Laura Delgado and Lottie Holland, along with two conversions from Gabby Cantorna securing victory against former EUWRFC Head Coach Jo Yapp’s Worcester Warriors side. With the successful return of top flight women’s rugby and the promising start from Exeter Chief’s first female side, there is no doubt that support at their home ground will be in full force when restrictions are eased enough for fans to return to stadia.