Two weeks on from downing reigning Allianz Premier 15s champions Harlequins, London’s Calling again for Exeter Chiefs Women, as they make the trip to Twyford Avenue to take on Wasps tomorrow (12.30pm).
With the blood pressures having finally lowered after those tense final moments at Sandy Park a fortnight ago, the visitors look set to go again with reflection and a target to improve now firmly at the forefront of the mind.
Indeed, once the dust had settled following Patricia Garcia’s last-gasp heroics, assistant coach Steve Salvin admitted that the side had been somewhat disappointed with their performance on the day.
“It was a great result, but not really a brilliant performance,” he said. “We understand the significance of that victory over Quins’, even though we didn’t play that well. There was a great atmosphere at Sandy Park, but it’s a different challenge this weekend with Wasps.”
That result at Sandy Park made sure that the Chiefs remained in third place in the Allianz Premier 15s table, following previous victories over Sale Sharks and DMP Durham Sharks. Whilst Salvin admits that performances haven’t quite been at the level the side would have hoped, he accepted that it had still “been a good period results wise.”
“You take winning every week and playing poorly over playing fantastically well and losing. But in an ideal world, you want a combination of the two, where your results are because of your performances. We don’t really feel we’ve been playing that well. In a way, that’s a positive thing though, as results are the main thing.”
With seven games still to play in the regular season, the hunt for the play-offs is firmly on. Following tomorrow’s encounter with Wasps, Exeter face trips to Gloucester-Hartpury and Loughborough, with all three sides firmly in the play-off hunt. And as the league looks set to see one of the tightest play-off races in recent memory, Salvin explained how his side were continuing to focus on taking it a game at a time.
“We’re not thinking about the play-offs too much,” he added. “We’re looking at week-to-week performances and, hopefully, that will put us in the right position. You’re always conscious of it [the league standings.] The next three games will be a real indicator of how tough it will be. You look at our next three games against Wasps, Gloucester-Hartpury and Loughborough, all of them will have the same ambitions of getting into the top four.”
Last season at Twyford Avenue, the Chiefs withstood a Meg Jones inspired onslaught from the hosts to secure a famous 31-29 victory. And after Wasps suffered a home defeat to Loughborough Lightning last weekend, the Chiefs will be all too conscious of the potential backlash from that result.
Salvin has challenged his side to find another level to their performance, with fear of results slipping away a very real prospect.
“We need to improve. It was a great result against Quins but if we continue to perform at that level, we will ultimately come unstuck. There’re numerous areas of the game we can improve but that has been the constant aim. The fact that we aren’t quite at it gives us real scope to develop still.”
Despite the constant drive for improvement, Salvin has seen some pleasing parts of recent performances, praising a “really good” defensive display last time out against Harlequins.
Ahead of kick-off, Salvin and Head Coach Susie Appleby have been forced into a number of changes. In the backline, Garnet Mackinder replaces Jennine Detiveaux on the wing, whist Nancy McGillivray returns to the starting line-up in place of Meg Foster. McGillivray’s inclusion sees a slight reshuffle elsewhere in the backs with Flo Robinson moving to fly-half and penalty hero Garcia returning to the more familiar position of scrum-half.
There are two further changes in the pack with Clara Nielson starting at hooker after impressing off the bench against Harlequins and Nichola Fryday taking up the position in the second row, with Abbie Fleming reverting to the bench.
Amongst the replacements, Eilidh Sinclair returns to the match-day side, whilst there could also be first appearances of the season for Welsh pair Meg Davies and Niamh Terry.
Having arrived at the club a little over two months ago, Salvin has helped tweak several facets of the Chiefs game and explained how overseeing more than one part of the game had left him with some slightly mixed emotions in recent weeks.
“I’ve been saying with Susie, it’s a bit of a funny one. Coaching different facets of the game, with the line-out and defence, you can go away from games really happy with one element and frustrated with another. I didn’t feel we were great at maul time against Quins, but our defence was really good. You can go away with a bit of a mixed view from certain games.”
Salvin ,though, did admit that he and Appleby had been making “tweaks rather than changes” with the improvements from that starting to show.
“We’ve seen the benefits of the tweaks over a short period of time. We’ve still got improvements to make though, which we need to ahead of the business end of the season.”
By Harry Scott-Munro