Hartpury dominated the 2023 Women’s National Championship final beating Exeter 45-12 to be crowned back-to-back champions
Mo Hunt’s team looked imperious from the kick-off, scoring first through Lucia Scott. Further tries would come from Amy Dale, Georgina Brock, a brace for Hannah Kibble, Steph Else and Gemma Bell.
Exeter chased their opposition’s tail for large portions of the 80 minutes with tries coming from Maddy Boocock and Lottie Dadds.
The reigning champions stormed out of the gates, picking holes in Exeter’s defence early on. It took less than two minutes for Mia Venner to find an opening and set up Scott who carved her way out wide and over the try line for the opening score of the match.
After withstanding a bombardment on their line, Hartpury marched back in the Exeter 22 and continued to test their opponents, searching for scores across the pitch.
Twice Exeter held them up but on the third attempt, Kibble splinted off the back of a dominant maul and was unstoppable as she scored her side’s second of the afternoon.
Hartpury’s set-piece stood steadfast amidst the swirling gusts of wind that bounced around the StoneX. Their ever-reliable lineout kicked into action just metres out from Exeter’s whitewash after Poppy Leitch's side conceded another penalty in defence.
Their maul flexed its muscles once more and Dale would not be stopped as she scored her side’s third try before the 25-minute mark.
For the Green and Whites, they needed to strike next to haul themselves back into contention and fuel their vocal supporters. They were gifted the perfect opportunity as Hartpury gave away a penalty.
Exeter proved their forwards could go toe to toe with Hartpury and their maul bulldozed over the line and Boocock scored their first points of the match.
Momentum started to swing towards the students from the West Country after a masterful 50/22 set them up for another scoring opportunity. However, Hartpury were quick to eradicate any hopes of their opponents eating into their lead and cleared their lines after a squint throw-in.
Exeter’s defence allowed Hartpury to march back up to their line but held firm when it mattered most and denied the Gloucestershire girls a fourth score as the clock went red.
Hartpury’s attack may have slowed as they returned to the field, but it had not ceased. Penalties restricted their chances but they clawed themselves back into Exeter’s 22 and their forwards went to work.
They broke down the Green and White lines before Brock capitalised on an opening just a few metres out and opened the second half scoring.
There was a sense of déjà vu moments later as Kibble scored her brace. Hartpury’s forwards were winning the battles up front and the second row could not be stopped by four Green and Whites shirts as she twisted and turned her way to her second try.
Exeter continued to play with pride as the second half unfolded and their patience was rewarded with 15 minutes to go. The entire team was involved in a maul that was brought down short of the try line but quick hands from the ruck found Dadds lurking on the wing who crossed the try line for her side’s second try of the afternoon.
Hartpury were ruthless in their response. A few phases after Exeter’s elation, the Hartpury forwards were sniffing around the posts for a sixth score which duly came from Else.
As the game entered the dying phases, the game became a showcase of the outstanding programme that has been created in Gloucester. A magnificent seventh was scored through substitute Bell and the Hartpury would be crowned champions for the second year in a row.
Captain Eve Roach, who missed out on last year’s final due to injury, reflected on her team’s back-to-back triumphs: “It feels amazing. The girls have had a hell of a season.
“It means so much to all these girls. We had some key players injured last minute and we were doing it for them on the sideline as well.
“We won last year which was amazing but also needed to remember that this is a completely different squad. To get to do it again and play with the girls again is amazing. It’s probably my career highlight, I love getting the girls hyped, they’re a great bunch of girls to captain and I’m so proud to be a part of it."
Head coach Mo Hunt echoed her captain’s sentiments: “It’s pretty surreal, to be honest. I knew they had it in them but to actually get here and get the job done is just a different level and I’m just so proud of them.
“The whole thing about this group is that I want them to thrive and play an attacking style of rugby that they’re excited to play and hopefully you saw glimpses of that.
“The group that we have got together is special.”
Hartpury XV: L Scott, P Hendy, M Venner, C Manns, C Grizzle-Johnson, A Priestnall, D Smith, A Veerkamp, A Dale, E Roach, G Skov, S Else, J Russell, H Kibble, G Brock
Reserves: C Matthews, E Addy, A Robson, J Battishill, S Davies, G Bell, R Down, E Bradley
Exeter XV: L Dadds, H Bond, N Brennan, H Titcome, T Grainger, E Cunningham, L Summers, A Skeates, M Boocock, L Hanlon, T Sharp, K Hayes, A Woodman, G Shaw, N Orchard
Reserves: G Molton, J Thomas, A Keyte, J Loxton, O Leveridge, F Marshall, A Woollett, K Buchanan