SUSIE Appleby has made only two changes to the starting 15 who produced a powerful and dominant performance in their opening Allianz Cup fixture, as she prepares her side for their first home game of the 2023-24 season and the visit of rivals Bristol Bears on Sunday (3pm), writes Jack Lewis.

It was an excellent curtain raiser for the defending cup champions, with the Devon side running out 39-7 winners at Sixways, and a number of fresh faces enjoyed a run-out in the Chiefs jersey for the first time.

It has been a summer of change for Appleby and her squad, saying farewell to several of the names who have been the bedrock of Exeter’s rise to the top. 

To kick off this campaign in such a positive fashion is testament to the depth of talent that is starting to come through the development pathway in the South West, and the team that will take to the Sandy Park turf for the first time this season reflects this progress.

This is a team that loves to play on home soil, and to welcome local rivals Bristol Bears for the first fixture at Sandy Park is sure to produce some fireworks. 

These two teams have enjoyed some real battles over the past couple of seasons, and with Bristol bringing in some notable and impressive recruits over the summer, the Bears will be looking to kick their season off by upsetting the champions in their own back yard.

The Chiefs pack have built up an imposing reputation for power and physicality and there are no changes to the eight that asserted themselves at Worcester.

The bedrock of this group of forwards has long been captain Poppy Leitch, who continues in her shift to the back row for the second consecutive week. 

This allows the imposing duo of Nichola Fryday and Harriet Millar-Mills to continue their partnership in the second row, with powerful young number eight Niamh Orchard looking to show her dynamism from the back of the pack.

The two changes come behind the scrum, with recent addition Eloise Hayward handed her first start at scrum-half after returning to Union from a stint with Leeds Rhinos. 

Following the departure of Flo Robinson in the summer, the number nine shirt is up for grabs and competition is stiff, so Hayward will be looking to make an impression early in the season.

Katie Buchanan comes on to the wing in place of the injured Jodie Ounsley, who picked up an unfortunate shoulder injury on the opening weekend.

Buchanan had a breakthrough season last year, and after being an awarded an England development contract in the summer, the 20-year-old will be eager to push on for 23-24.

Exeter Chiefs: Merryn Doidge (vc), Eilidh Sinclair, Felecity Powdrell, Sophie Langford, Katie Buchanan, Lottie Dadds, Eloise Hayward, Abby Middlebrooke, Cliodhna Moloney, Lizzie Hanlon, Nichola Fryday, Harriet Millar-Mills, Ebony Jefferies, Poppy Leitch (capt), Niamh Orchard. Replacements: Clara Nielson, Panashe Muzambe, Hannah Sams, Kate Smith, Josie Plant, Olivia Ortiz, Danielle Preece, Sammie Harris.