I’m going to recount a conversation I had with my 4 year old grandson the night before the Premier 15’s semi-final, it went something like this……. Are you coming out with us tomorrow Nanny? No Vinnie I’m not, I’m going to watch rugby. In fact I’m going to watch women’s rugby. Women don’t play rugby, was this 4 year olds’ reply!! Well, yes Vinnie, yes they do! They play with skill, strength and passion! I will put him right on that as soon as he’s old enough to sit still for 80 minutes! For now this is going to be mostly words as I forgot my gadget to transfer my photos, boooooo!
The culmination of the Premier 15’s saw Saracens who’d contested the last 4 finals and Exeter Chiefs in only their second season meet each other at Sixways, the Worcester Warriors stadium. At £48 a head for a 2 course metal, parking and a ticket for a seat with a birds eye view it was rude not to go for hospitality. We sat with 6 Saracens fans and a poor solo Chiefs fan. The discussion around how Exeter had built their team was an interesting one. Had the RFU been honest about their intentions 4 years ago those who came into the league more recently would have had more time to build a team rather than buy one. Had they made it known they wanted a mirror of Premiership Rugby the building could have started then.
A version of these 2 teams met on May 7th in Exeter and the result was Chiefs 54 Saracens 12. The Saracens team on the pitch for the final included 2 key players not available that day in Marlie Packer and Poppy Cleall. As always I can’t find the teams for that day, the information on both the games and the players in this competition is poor to say the least.
Saracens struck first in this match with Packer going over the line after Saracens had been awarded an early penalty, Hannah Botterman had looked to be over the line but Chiefs Garcia pulled the ball out of her hands as she went over the line. Poppy Cleall took a tap penalty and 2 drives later Packer was over the line. The Co-Captain extraordinaire as she’s described on the TV coverage. The try was under the posts and an easy conversion for Alev Kelter. Saracens had a lead of 7 with 6 minutes on the clock.
Lottie Clapp looked to be on her way to the try line a couple of minutes later when she read a Chiefs pass perfectly, she was called back as a high tackle from Kelter was spotted. A second ‘tackle’ from Kelter was checked a few minutes later, but that was deemed to be ok.
There was an odd intervention for the line out resulting from a penalty awarded to Exeter, they were pulled up by the referee for keeping the receiver up in the air, but he simply had Exeter take the line out again, that, was strange. Exeter we’re awarded another penalty and chose not to kick the points, Saracens won the ball back as they drove towards the line, then Saracens won a penalty to clear their line. Saracens Hooker May Campbell, played a large part in winning that penalty, she played a brilliant game and very much ‘punched’ above her size!
Both Packer and Campbell had a part in Saracens next try, Packer is a very hard player to stop and she drove towards the line with incredible strength, Campbell took the ball when she was stopped. Vicky Fleetwood was the player who touched down under the posts. Kelter must’ve been more than pleased with the positioning, the conversion sailed over and Saracens had a 14 point lead.
A great run through by Chiefs prop Delia Menin put them in a great position and a couple of penalties put them close to the Saracens line. Patricia Garcia used all of her experience to go on her own, knowing she couldn’t be tackled, she scored a great individual try.
Kelter added another 3 on 30 minutes after a penalty. Holly Aitchison had put in a close to perfect kick down the wing, knowing she had a free play, it would’ve been brilliance had it come off. That moved the score to Saracens 17 Exeter 7. (Not the 23-7 the BBC showed at 35 minutes?!?!).
Marlie Packer added her 2nd and Saracens 3rd on 40 minutes, Kelter had broken through getting deep into the Chiefs half, a couple of backs flirted with taking the ball forwards before Fleetwood made good yards. Packer showed all of her strength and determination to power over the line. Kelter added the extras and the teams went in at half time with the score on Saracens 24 Exeter 7.
Saracens started the 2nd half as they finished the 1st with a show of power and a 4th try! The backs and forwards combined to head towards the Exeter line, Lottie Clapp took the ball in close to the line before Mackenzie Carson ran like the wind, albeit from close to the line, to touch down. The kick was good and Saracens had 31 points.
Hope Rogers showed her own strength as she took the ball from a Saracens forwards to then make a great run, the ball was ultimately knocked on by Chiefs.
Saracens lost one of their own line outs by overly complicating things , they then gave away a penalty which gave Exeter their own line out in a dangerous position. May Campbell came up with the ball from the Chiefs attack but Chiefs had another penalty waiting. Packer was penalised, leading to a team warning for Saracens as Chiefs went forwards. Chiefs were held up after Rogers went for a tap tackle.
At this point, on 509 minutes the Exeter Coach looked to be in despair, her team had struggled to contain the Saracens unit. It has to be said Alex Austerberry also looked nervous when they panned onto him.
Chiefs scored what was probably the try of the game as their forwards interacted, with the final pass going to Jennine Detiveaux the USA winger who scored, giving the Chiefs fans, who were there in number something to shout about. While I’m on the Chiefs fans I must make mention of the inappropriate chanting which happened at various times throughout the game, the club has recognised the need to rebrand, some of their fans really must do the same.
On 60 minutes the gap between the teams was 17 points, Saracens ‘swarmed’through the Chiefs in the words of the commentator, they went close through their forwards but Chiefs held out. They went back for a second bite of the cherry, May Campbell took the ball over, this one went to the TMO who found the right angle, the Referee had awarded a try, unbeknown to the crowd, the TMO couldn’t see a clear reason to disallow the try. The question asked was the key here, the try was a surprise all round I think. The conversion was good and the score on 63 minutes was Saracens 38 Exeter 14.
Alysha Corrigan scored Saracens best try of the game, she took a lovely pass from Hannah Botterman and broke through Chiefs players galore to run in and score. Austberry was shown at this point, but in spite of a lead of 29 he still looked worried! Kelter was timed out of taking her kick, I’ve never seen that before!
Georgia Evans came on as a replacement, one of the very few rugby players you’ll see in a pink hair bow, she suffered a horrible dislocation of her arm earlier in the season, a televised game her distress was clear to hear. To see her make an appearance in the final was great!
Chiefs had the last word on the scoreboard, Poppy Cleall gave away a penalty that saw Chiefs grin=bing to the line, replacement Ebony Jeffries literally pulled the ball out of the maul and backed herself to get over the line. The conversion was a good one and the score was Saracens 43 Exeter Chiefs 21. That was the final result and Saracens had their 3rd trophy in 4 years.
Marlie Packer received the deserved player of the match plaudit, she was truly brilliant as were the majority of the Saracens team, this was a well deserved win for the team from North London.
The joy of wining that trophy!