Exeter’s eight tries sink Harlequins and light up Twickenham in Premier 15s

  • Harlequins 25-54 Exeter
  • Claudia MacDonald and Kate Zackary both score two tries

The final of the women’s Premier 15s competition is three and a half months away but the odds on Exeter going all the way continue to shrink. The league leaders have lost once in 13 games and this ultimately convincing eight-try victory was their latest show of intent.

If they were not entirely error-free, they played some lovely rugby at times and backed it up with energy and physicality. There were two tries apiece for the England back Claudia MacDonald and the versatile American centre Kate Zackary, but this was a collective effort.

Exeter raced into a 14-0 lead through Zackary and Maisy Allen and came close to scoring a couple more, with Zachary putting a toe in touch in the opening minute and Nichola Fryday dropping the ball as she stretched for the line. Quins were well off the pace and could barely escape their own half.

With a little more possession and territory, the hosts gained a foothold on the contest via a try from the England scrum-half Lucy Packer, and the boot of the Australian fly-half Bella McKenzie. Suddenly, it was 14-13 and the match assumed a different complexion.

But in the shape of Zackary and the American No 8 Rachel Johnson, Exeter had the two most consistently energetic ball-carriers on the field and it was due reward for Johnson when she benefitted from a defensive mismatch to go over for Exeter’s third try shortly before the interval.

Crowd at the Big Game.
A large crowd turned up for the Big Game at Twickenham with the women’s match preceding the men’s. Photograph: Ryan Crockett/JMP/Shutterstock

Quins struck back early in the second half courtesy of a sharp Abby Dow finish down the right, but almost immediately the replacement back-rower Ebony Jefferies broke clear to secure Chiefs’ bonus point at the other end before MacDonald, Zackary and the new England squad member Nancy McGillivray further turned the screw.

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There are those who feel double headers are a mixed blessing for women’s rugby but on this occasion the men were relegated to the colder twilight zone while the Premier 15s were handed the plum mid-afternoon slot. By the end it was claimed that a record 15,420 spectators watched the day’s first instalment and Quins’ head coach Amy Turner is convinced the dual Big Game format is a winning one.

“To have this game on a big stage at Twickenham showcases how seriously the club take every fixture, women’s or men’s,” she said. “It just shows the club’s intent that, whether people are watching the women’s or the men’s, they’re getting a good product regardless.”


Robert Kitson at Twickenham

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