Ireland international Laura Sheehan helped Exeter Chiefs pull off a stunning upset to beat reigning champions Harlequins 24-12 at the Twickenham Stoop in the latest round of Premier 15s action.
Strong defensive performances from both squads saw the home side take a 7-5 lead into half-time through a late Fiona Fletcher try, with Red Roses development player Ellie Green adding the extras.
McKinley Hunt responded for the Chiefs with a try of her own on 40 minutes and Dutch captain Linde Van der Velden then dotted down, with Flo Robinson converting for a 12-7 lead.
Ireland star Sheehan then gave the visitors a ten-point advantage, crossing at the 61-minute mark before Rachel Johnson secured the bonus point seven minutes later, with fly-half Robinson – sister to Quins’ Emily – converting.
A late score from England’s Amelia Harper could only cut Chiefs’ lead in half as a Quins side packed with Women’s Six Nations winners – including Lagi Tuima, Ellie Kildunne, Vickii Cornborough and Shaunagh Brown – were left scratching their heads as they dropped to fifth place in the Premier 15s table.
Exeter head coach Susie Appleby said: “We haven’t gotten carried away, we haven’t just gone on and won the Premiership but we’ve taken another step forward on our journey.
“It is a journey, and people are getting on board this journey and playing big parts in it.”
Elsewhere, a hat-trick from Vicky Foxwell wasn’t enough for Worcester Warriors, who fell 26-22 to Wasps at Twyford Avenue.
Red Roses scrum-half Claudia MacDonald opened the scoring on just two minutes with Florence Williams converting before adding two tries of her own.
England U20s full-back Jessica Cooksey and senior squad members Abby Dow and Rowena Burnfield also contributed points to the victory.
Wasps, who finished third before losing in the semi-finals last term, ended Saturday tied with third-placed Gloucester-Hartpury on 11 points but sit fourth on points difference.
The Cherry and Whites, meanwhile, spoiled the fun for Sale Sharks, beating the home side 45-21 at Heywood Road thanks to a dominant performance by full-back Emma Sing, who ended the afternoon with a try and four conversions.
Scotland scrum-half Mhairi Grieve opened the scoring for Sharks in a match that also saw two tries from USA’s Catherine Benson, with Victoria Irwin slotting all the extras.
Last season’s runners-up Saracens continued their strong start to the new campaign with 30-cap England international Zoe Harrison adding 18 points in their 38-7 home victory over Loughborough Lightning.
The 2020/2021 regular season table-toppers also benefitted from scores by skipper Lotte Clapp, fellow Red Roses star Sarah McKenna, World Cup winner Marlie Packer and Donna Rose, who made her Wales debut against France in the 2021 Women’s Six Nations.
Lightning’s only points came from a 35th-minute penalty try.
Bristol Bears, meanwhile, remain unbeaten at the top of the table after thumping last-placed DMP Durham Sharks 115-0.
Captain Amber Reed, who has earned 58 caps for England, led an attack that also saw tries from Wales skipper Siwan Lillicrap and Welsh winger Courtney Keight, who dotted down five times at Shaftesbury Park.
Sharks, meanwhile, were forced to play 27 minutes with 14 players after losing scrum-half Chloe Broom to injury, with no-one available to take her place.