Exeter and Bristol have made league history by reaching the semi-finals for the first time

Exeter v Bristol Premier 15s Semi-final Preview

Bristol Bears travel to Sandy Park on Sunday to face Exeter Chiefs in a history-making Allianz Premier 15s semi-final.

Neither team has been in the knockout stage of the league before. As they are facing each other in the semi-final, one side will make even more history as the first team to reach a Premier 15s final that is not Saracens or Harlequins.

“That stat itself would be amazing,” Bristol’s Kayleigh Powell tells Rugby World. “We’re just doing what we need to do to get to the final. Then we can be in the moment. We would love to get there.”

A route to a potential title is on the line on Sunday but it has the added layer of being a local derby. And it is also a back-to-back derby with the teams having played each other last weekend in the final match of the regular season.

Exeter came out on top, after losing to Bristol earlier in the league season, but Exeter’s Gabby Cantorna says the club will be in better form this weekend.

“We’ve taken a look at the match last weekend,” the USA international says. “I think we as a group thought we didn’t play as well as we wanted to. So it is nice to be able to have another shot. To have a shot to execute things we let fall.

“But at the same time we were always going to prepare for this game similarly no matter what. It’s all about the intensity that comes into training. It is nice to have a look at Bristol but at the same time it’s just preparation for another match.”

The top four was sealed on the penultimate weekend of the regular season but the last home semi-final spot was still to play for. Exeter bagged it with their win over Bristol and Cantorna has spoken on the impact it will have.

“We love playing here,” the centre says of Sandy Park. “We love the pitch and facilities we have access to, especially the support we get from the fans. Having a home semi-final is huge. The last time we went to Bristol we didn’t perform as well as we wanted to. I know a few of our players don’t particularly care for the artificial pitches. We are buzzing to be on grass this weekend. To have a big expansive field and the big try zones we have here.

“Getting all that home support behind us. I know the local girls families are coming and they are excited to support them.”

Exeter v Bristol Premier 15s Semi-final

Kayleigh Powell on the charge against Harlequins (Getty Images)

But it seems Bristol aren’t intimidated by having to play away. Full-back Powell says it’s beneficial for them that they played at Sandy Park last week and she’s full of confidence in her side.

“Playing there now, it’s not a strange place to play at,” she says. “It’s given me and the team a bit of confidence. Okay, we lost (last week) but it’s given us positives to take from it. We’re hoping we turn up on the day relatively confident.

“I’d like to think it will be positive that we learn from everything that went wrong. There were moments where we were outstanding. We need to take that into this week. I’m confident off the back of last week regardless of the loss.”

More fans than ever are expected to tune in with coverage on BT Sport and the BBC iPlayer. Powell says it is exactly what the women’s game needs.

She adds: “This is only going to grow the fans base. Myself, I’m part-time but in five, six years’ time it would be great to have clubs fully professional just like the men. This is a great step forward in reaching that. Reaching that exposure we need. To get more people watching, to get more sponsors and buy-in to the women’s game.”


What’s the big team news?

Exeter have made one change to their starting XV from their clash with Bristol last week. Nichola Fryday returns in the second row, which sees McKinley Hunt drop to the bench.

Laura Delgado isn’t included in the match-day 23 after she was handed a three-week suspension following her red card against Bristol last weekend for a dangerous tackle.

Bristol, meanwhile, have made two changes to their starting line-up. Jenny Hesketh starts on the wing in place of Grace Crompton and Siwan Lillicrap comes in for Rownita Marston, who isn’t included after she was given a three-week suspension for a dangerous tackle against Exeter last week.

What time is kick-off and is it on TV?

The match will kick-off at 4.30pm on Sunday 22 May at Sandy Park. Tickets are available via exeterchiefs.co.uk

The game will be available to watch on BT Sport 2 and on the BBC iPlayer in the UK as well as via premier15s.com

If you don’t have a BT Sport contract but want to watch the match – and the other Premier 15s semi-final between Exeter and Bristol – don’t worry. BT Sport has a contract-free monthly pass that allows you to get instant access to all four of their sport channels for just £25.

Charlie Gayther is the referee and Simon Adams, Peter Brunt and Adam Wookey will be assisting. The TMO (television match official) is Sara Cox.

What are the line-ups?

Exeter Chiefs: Merryn Doidge; Eilidh Sinclair, Kanako Kobayashi, Gabby Cantorna, Jennie Detiveaux; Patricia Garcia, Flo Robinson; Hope Rogers, Emily Tuttosi, Daleaka Menin, Nichola Fryday, Linde van der Velden, Poppy Leitch (co-captain), Rachel Johnson, Kate Zackary (co-captain).

Replacements: Clara Nielson, McKinley Hunt, Michaella Roberts, Ebony Jefferies, Gabrielle Senft, Brooke Bradley, Megan Foster, Nancy McGillivray.

Bristol Bears: Kayleigh Powell; Jenny Hesketh, Phoebe Murray, Amber Reed (co-captain), Courtney Keight; Lucie Skuse, Keira Bevan; Simi Pam, Hannah West, Sarah Bern, Delaney Burns, Abbie Ward (co-captain), Alisha Butchers, Manon Johnes, Siwan Lillicrap.

Replacements: Holly Phillips, China Kill, Ellie Mulhearn, Natalia John, Gabriella Nigrelli, Lucy Burgess, Elinor Snowsill, Ella Lovibond.

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