19 December 2020

Exeter Chiefs’ Susie Appleby on welcoming crowds for the first time to their ‘battle’ against Sale Sharks

Exeter Chiefs will use the first time crowds are welcomed to Sandy Park in the Premier 15s this weekend as a ‘foundation’ to build a fanbase.

Chiefs joined the league in April and so supporters will have their first chance to cheer on their side on Saturday as they are in Devon which is in tier 2. This means up to 2,000 people can be in the ground when the club take on fellow league newcomers Sale Sharks.

Chiefs head coach Susie Appleby told NewsChain it will be  ‘interesting’ to debut their rugby for fans.

She said: "Yeah [we’re] excited. It's going to be brilliant. It's what we came here to do, to have fans in the stadium. So yeah the girls are really excited but trying to keep their feet on the ground and focus on the game.

"I think it will be a mix of local women and girls that play [who come and watch]. Some regular Chiefs fans [too]. I think it will be really interesting to see and what we are hoping is to grow. So this will be a start, a foundation, and then hopefully they will have a good day and then they will keep coming back.

“For these girls who have been playing in an empty stadium, wonderful stadium that it is, they're really excited to be able to almost showcase their game. Show people what they can do. So I think they are really looking forward to it.”

Their opponents Sharks have only recorded one win so far in the league but they have competed closely against top clubs.

“Sale are doing really well, not surprisingly,” Appleby said. "It’s a great club, an excellent club Sale Sharks. They've got a really good set up, support network and infrastructure.

"They have brought in some really good players. So Katy Daley-Mclean is probably the stand out but alongside her they have excellent backs in Lauren Delany at full-back. They've got a really strong centre field and the likes of Hannah Field, who has gone up from Richmond.

"They are just a really good side who are doing simple things very, very well. You can see the heart in the side and the fact they want to play for each other is brilliant isn’t it. They are a brand new side and you can see their collectiveness all together.

“So they are going to be a real handful and we're expecting a real battle on Saturday.”

Both Sharks and Chiefs’ squads were put together in the middle of the pandemic and Appleby has said Chiefs’ players and coaches alike were ‘strangers’ when they first played in the league in October.

Despite the difficult circumstances, Appleby’s side have won two matches and sit in sixth so far this season and she is ‘pleased’ with her club’s start.

“We are doing alright. We were all complete strangers mainly. When we took the field for the first time in the first game we still didn't have all of our squad together. So we've got some continuity going now which is massively important when you look at your attacking shape and the defensive structure. 

"The main thing is the girls are really enjoying playing with each other. We are enjoying training. We are in a full time environment which is really benefitting us in terms of how we can move forward. That involves players from overseas, young players coming through and local girls. It's coming together really, really nicely and we're really pleased with how it's going.

"I just think the heart the girls have inside of them and the desire to play rugby to be better is really what is taking us forward. All we did was get together and cope with any challenges that were thrown at us. We tried to convert them to be opportunities and the girls have really embraced that which is all you could ask of them really.

“It hasn’t been easy coming together in the middle of a pandemic but who knows what is making us do well. But it's by no means perfect at all. There are little things where there are frustrations. But we are moving in the right direction and that's what really counts.”

Before the season began, Appleby told NewsChain she was aiming for a top half of the table finish in their first year in the league and she has now doubled down on the target.

"Yes we are focusing on each performance. But we have to ensure we take points where we can. Two perfect examples were the last games we played. Against Wasps we let a bonus point slip late in the game and against Loughborough last week if we kept hold of the game it could have kept us nudging up the table.

"As we continue to improve we hope those close games will become wins for us in the second half of the season. We're sitting in sixth but that's a tight sixth isn’t it. We're level on points with Bristol who are a really good side. Worcester got a win last week, a really good win against Bristol.

"The good thing about this league is any team could win on the day. We're not really talking about where we finish. Yes we would still like to finish in the top half and it's still completely within our grasp which is really pleasing. It's not like we are sitting down at the bottom of the table. So every game, it sounds like a cliche, but it is every performance at a time. 

“There will be new players taking the field. We've picked up some injuries. Sadly we’ve lost some players so where we finish at the end [of the first half of the season] will be where we make [decisions on how to play] the next ten games affectively.”

Chiefs will play Sharks on Saturday at 2pm.

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