On a cold afternoon at Cyncoed campus, Exeter returned from a three-week break back to the BUCS National League to face league leaders Cardiff Met.
The game got underway, and it was a poor start for the visitors as Met got an early penalty and kicked it to the corner five metres out. A strong driving maul rolled over the line, and Met got the early try however missed the conversion.
Exeter responded in typical fashion with intense pressure down in the Met half with a lovely box kick over the top of the defensive line from Marshall, putting Met under pressure. However, the hosts had a couple of easy outs with poor Exeter mistakes in possession; however, the intention from Exeter was clear.
Met conceded a penalty at the breakdown for not rolling away right on their 22’ metre line. Some quick thinking from Marshall meant she saw the gap, took the quick tap, went through the retreating Met defenders, and got the score. Westwood executed a brilliant kick for the conversion as well to take Exeter into the lead.
The try for Exeter clearly gave momentum for the visitors as they got another try just a couple of minutes later. A nice break down the wing by Lauren Summers got Exeter position inside the opposition half. From there, an excellent pull-back play opened space up for Westwood to execute a nicely weighted cross-field kick that Clarke chased down hard and pounced on the bouncing ball for the score.
Cardiff Met seemed to be in again, though, not long after, with the hooker making a half-line break and getting right up to the Exeter try line. However, some expert Exeter defence turned the ball over, and Dadds was able to clear the Exeter lines.
Despite the period of Met attack, Exeter kept up their presence. It was a physical rolling maul that drove Exeter from the halfway line all the way to the entrance to the Met 22’. Once again, it was good, consistent pressure from Exeter as they maintained possession well inside the red zone for multiple phases as they drew in the Met defenders. Eventually, it was simple hands as it came out to Dadds, who went over for the try untouched.
Unfortunately, Met got one last score before the close of the half, as they had a positive field position near the Exeter try line and had a driving maul from five metres out. Exeter managed to bring the maul down; however, Cardiff kept it close with the pick-and-go’s and got the ball just over the line for the score.
HALF TIME SCORE: CARDIFF MET 10-17 EXETER UNIVERSITY
Exeter started the second half well, looking the most fluid in attack that they had all game as they worked it up the pitch expertly and spread it out wide. Unfortunately, the last pass wouldn’t stick, and Exeter missed the opportunity.
Exeter maintained pressure in the red zone consistently, but Cardiff Met managed to turn the ball back over on multiple opportunities at the last ditch attempt. However, the intent to extend the lead was clear from the visitors.
It became very back and forth, with Exeter mounting constant attacks; however, the Met scramble managed to keep them out, but Exeter showed they meant business with the continual territory and possession.
It was an incredibly physical encounter, especially in the second half, with some ginormous hits coming in from both sides, and it did mean that there were some early changes due to injury.
Despite the early Exeter pressure, Cardiff Met gained momentum thanks to some half-line breaks and entered the Exeter half. They were clinical ball in hand for multiple phases, as is their trademark, and dove under the posts for the score and converted to level the score.
Clearly, something had clicked for the hosts that hadn’t so far in the game, and they managed to pick up the pace with their carries, and Exeter were suddenly in danger. However, some initial strong defensive efforts from the Devon side meant they retaliated and were able to relieve the pressure.
Exeter managed to turn defence into attack in an instant. Summers gave an excellent offload to Orchard, who broke through the initial tackles, and Exeter were back on form with quick ball up past the halfway line. The ball came out to Clarke, who was in space and beat multiple Met, stepping one defender with her quick feet and breaking through the tackle of the other to flip the game back in Exeter’s favour with another try.
With ten minutes left on the clock, it was a tight affair, and both sides were determined to come out on top.
Met had one last shot in the final play as they trundled it up the pitch and kept it close, making sure not to make any mistakes. They went direct with their carries; however, some superb defence from Exeter managed to hold the ball up over the line.
Unfortunately for Exeter, the subsequent goal line dropout went out on the full, giving Met a five-metre scrum and another opportunity for the score. This time, they were more clinical once again, keeping it close with their carries, and crashed over right next to the post. The resulting conversion gave them the lead.
Time still wasn’t up on the clock, and Exter had one last shot of their own as they managed to work the ball down the pitch. A five-metre lineout resulted in a hefty driving maul; however, the Met defence held it up, giving them a scrum from which the Cardiff Met player booted it out into touch for the final whistle to be blown.
FULL-TIME SCORE: CARDIFF MET 24-22 EXETER UNIVERSITY
It was a heartbreaking loss right at the death from Exeter; however, after an extensive break from the league, it was a great effort from the whole squad and was a performance to be proud of. Exeter will take their learnings into the final two games at home before the Christmas break.