Two different Exeter Chiefs stories as Women make debut

Today was a day of sunshine for both Exeter Chiefs‘ First XV’s in the West of England. The rainbows showed there was always a shower nearby though.

Both of Exeter Chiefs’ First XV’s had their own story to tell. One was a win, the other a loss. One was a start, the other the sprint to the finish. Both showed that star quality can achieve much. It can’t do everything for you, though.

Women play first match against Gloucester-Hartpury

The Premier15‘s kicked off with Gloucester-Hartpury hosting the Exeter Chiefs. The Exeter ladies are a new entry into the Premier15’s and they have been adding big names in a rapid tempo. The team on the day was lead by Netherlands captain Linde van der Velden. The number 8 is joined in the backrow by USA captain Kate Zachary. They also signed another Red Rose in Lauren Cattell, and four Canadian test players in Emily Tuttosi, McKinley Hunt, Taylor Black and Olivia DeMerchant. They also brought Japanese player Sachiko Kato to their roster.

At the Alpas Arena, the star-studded team with huge ambitions failed to make a fist of it. Gloucester-Hartpury is a major contender for the title, so that first match would always have been hard. It was probably a surprise how hard it would be. They were on the back foot almost immediately.

Linde van der Velden seemed to get them back into the game when she got her blood up. Taking a quick penalty, she smuggled a try with a very strong carry. Kate Zachary was with her the entire match. Her rampaging runs got Exeter so much forward momentum they looked to be able to claw it back most of the match.

But time and again, the togetherness Gloucester-Hartpury threw them back. They managed to break them down piece by piece. They picked apart both the defense and the attack time and again. It was clear that Exeter is not yet ready to compete with them.

Exeter Chiefs is clearly a strong side, as can be expected with the amount of experience and talent. Yet they have not yet formed into a strong unit. This will come, but it might not be before New Year. It might not even be this season.

Men’s tea, triumph at home against Bath

The Gallagher Premiership semi final at Sandy Park was the other side of the rainbow. It is where Exeter wants both teams to be. The women’s team will never be the men’s team, as coach Susie Appleby said. But the club’s ambition is obviously for the women to reach the same heights as the men.

And during the match against Bath, they soared to new heights. The Chiefs did not play impressive rugby, but they gelled well. They made plenty of mistakes, including a sin bin, but they ran out clear winners.

Bath was under the cloche almost all match. They were the ones never able to make a fist.

Perhaps the most striking moment was Exeter’s first try. Bath had had a dozen forays into the Exeter 22, but failed to even get close to scoring. Upon their first extended visit to the Bath 22, Exeter strung a number of phases together and managed to roll over. That sort of set the tone.

Bath became more and more desperate. They often ran long, curved lines to reach the outside, where simple hands would have given them a chance on the wing. It allowed Exeter to close the space and react to the situation.

The ultimate sign of their desperation was one of their players screaming at the referee when a try had been awarded to Exeter after a maul. The referee did make the wrong call and was corrected by his assistant, but the player could, and maybe should, have been sent off.

A start and a final sprint for Exeter Chiefs

Exeter’s Men’s XV are now in the Premiership final against Wasps. They will also play Racing ’92 in the Heineken Cup final next Saturday. Their season is being finished, and being finished in style. They could still end up with empty hands, but they will finish in style no matter what.

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Exeter’s Women’s XV are starting their Premiership just now. They face an uphill battle, which they might not be ready for yet. However, they can also only grow into the season and into a competition that is one of the highest levels in the world. In the end though, they will surely add a new level of depth at Sandy Park.

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