Harry Scott-Munro at Twyford Avenue
Exeter Chiefs Women were made to pay the penalty as Flo Williams’ late shot helped seals Wasps Women a share of the spoils in this hard-fought Allianz Premier 15s encounter.
In a tight and abrasive match, tries from Clara Nielson, Zinlte Mpupha and Rachel Johnson looked to have secured Chiefs the victory, only for scores from Maud Muir and Bryony Cleall, along with five points from the boot of Williams to leave the match level.
Coming into the match, Head Coach Susie Appleby made a number of changes to her side, with Nielson, Nichola Fryday, Nancy McGillivray and Garnet Mackinder all handed starts in the wake of their last-gasp victory over defending champions Harlequins.
Wasps were desperate to right the wrongs of last weekend’s defeat to Loughborough Lightning and they started the fastest, as a concession of penalties from the Chiefs at the breakdown allowed Williams to kick her side into an attacking position.
The Chiefs, though, were resolute in defence and looked to spark an attack of their own, only for Wasps to force a knock on. It was a cagey opening period from both sides, as they looked to adjust to the swirling wind.
Penalties and ill-discipline were costing the Chiefs in the early exchanges, as the boot of Williams was finding grass in positions where Exeter were struggling to re-adjust.
For Exeter though, an overthrown line-out provided a huge let-off and it seemed to spark the side into life. Quick thinking from Flo Robinson allowed Mackinder to make ground down the wing, before a bludgeoning carry in midfield from Mpupha left Wasps at sixes and sevens.
The Chiefs were in the mood now and after Garcia had kicked to the corner from a penalty, the pack made no mistake, as they drove over from close range, Nielson the player to pop up with the ball.
That try was merely a brief respite from the Wasps onslaught, as the hosts were straight back on the attack through Gemma Rowland and Abby Dow. Dow is one of the most elusive runners in the game, but she was kept relatively quiet throughout the match thanks to the defensive work of Merryn Doidge and Laura Sheehan.
The Irish wing was involved in the attack soon after as well, as she broke free down the short-side and looked to find Kate Zackary on the inside, only for the ball to not quite connect.
Exeter were still huffing and puffing away with ball in hand, as Mackinder made important metres down the wing, but they were still somewhat feeding off of scraps.
They almost took one of those opportunities on the half hour mark, as Mpupha almost managed to gather a loose pass in midfield from Wasps.
Whilst that opportunity went begging, the hosts then fired a shot of their own, as they made the most of a series of breakdown lapses from the Chiefs, to kick themselves to within sight of the try line. Exeter’s defence held firm for as long as it could, but eventually Muir was able to rummage over, Williams adding the extras to see her side hit the front.
The Exeter response though was instant, as they made sure they would go in at half-time ahead, as Mpupha scored her second try in two games. An initial burst from Garcia left Wasps scrambling, with hard carries from Zackary and Johnson creating space for the ball to be worked out to Mpupha to dart over.
HALF-TIME SCORE: WASPS WOMEN 7 EXETER CHIEFS WOMEN 10
The second half saw Wasps begin with the same intensity as they had begun the first period, with the referee not impressed with Exeter’s work at the breakdown. With the hosts marching towards the Chiefs line, Zackary thought she had managed to execute a crucial turnover for her side, only for the referee to send her to the bin, for what was deemed an illegal turnover.
Exeter’s defence continued to stand up to the waves of Wasps attacks, with a huge hit from DaLeaka Menin and Doidge forcing a knock-on.
As Wasps continued to attack, they suffered a blow as second row Cooney stayed down after a heavy collision. After a delay to proceedings, the second row let the field on a stretcher, before Johnson secured a crucial turnover.
Even with Zackary off the field, Exeter’s driving game was causing chaos for Wasps, as they continually infringed trying to stop it moving forwards at a rate of knots. That allowed Garcia to continue to kick her side up the field, with a third devastating maul seeing Johnson dot down and stretch the lead.
Again though, Exeter shot themselves in the foot from the restart, as they spilt the ball forward, allowing Wasps to again hammer at the door. They would score their second of the match shortly after as well, replacement Bryony Cleall barrelling over from close range to reduce the deficit; Williams’ conversion hitting the post.
Exeter were now back up to a full compliment of players and again, the maul was causing damage. As Wasps struggled to cope with the onslaught from the Chiefs pack, Cleall saw yellow, as the referee ran out of patience with the Wasps penalty count.
This was the moment for Exeter to re-establish a larger advantage, as they searched for a bonus point score. It wasn’t to be though, as the ball was lost forward.
Chiefs still kept the pressure on, as Johnson charged down Williams, but the American was just unable to gather the ball before it went dead.
With time ticking away, Exeter were sent tracking back after a clever dink from Williams, before they gave up possession at the ruck.
Williams slotted the simple penalty to level the tie and, despite a late effort from Exeter to try and set up a position for some more last-minute heroics, it wasn’t to be, as the match ended all square.
In some ways, the result may well feel like a defeat, having led for so long in the match. Despite that though, the two points gained could still prove crucial come the final reckoning.