Garnet Mackinder’s late score helped Exeter Chiefs win their West Country derby with Bristol Bears as the Allianz Premier 15s continued under a cloud.
Three games went ahead despite players not being tested for COVID-19 and infection rates soaring around the country.
Both games set to be played in the London area - Harlequins against Wasps and Saracens versus Sale Sharks - were postponed but play went on elsewhere.
And Chiefs took their chance in their highly-anticipated televised clash with the Bears, securing an impressive bonus-point win and climbing to fifth in the table.
Joyce scored two superb individual tries early on for Bristol, the first a twisting run down the left to dot down and then an interception score from 70 metres out.
Chiefs rallied and Ebony Jeffries hit the ball at pace to tie it up at 14-14, and a Laura Delgado score put them in front, but they went down to 14 when Patricia Garcia Rodriguez was sent off for a dangerous tackle on Joyce.
Joyce sealed a hat-trick by breaking two tackles but the battle for the points was raging as Emily Tuttosi scored to level it at 24-24.
Mackinder’s moment came on 66 minutes when she was found by Taylor Black and dived over from a tight angle to seal the 31-27 win.
— Exeter Chiefs (@ExeterChiefs) January 9, 2021
After the game, Chiefs head coach Susie Appleby explained: “I said at half-time, these 35 minutes will determine our future and it did because they could’ve just gone, because it’s tough. Playing without your nine and then you lose your centre because we made that change, it wasn’t easy out there.
“It wasn’t perfect and Flo (Robinson) overplayed a little bit, but it’s really pleasing to get a bonus-point win on the road at Bristol who are a really good side. We’ll take that moving forward.
“The red card was a bit disappointing. I’m gutted for Pat. It was nothing malicious, obviously, but then we had to deal with it. I think that was the turning point wasn’t it?
“What resilience can we show? What fight? What real Chiefs spirit? And the girls found a way, they found a way to win in the face of adversity.”
COVID permitting, Exeter face Harlequins in a mouth-watering clash next week.
Meanwhile, Red Roses hooker Lark Davies scored twice as Loughborough Lightning beat Gloucester-Hartpury 29-21.
Davies notched her tenth try of the season in the early stages in response to Shya Pinnock’s opener for the hosts.
Lightning stepped into top gear in the second half, with tries from Katie Trevarthen, Rhona Lloyd and Davies once more to open up a 15-point lead.
Emma Sing rallied to dot down late on for the hosts but it was too little, too late.
Elsewhere Worcester Warriors romped to a 70-6 win over DMP Sharks, scoring 12 tries in the process including four from captain Sioned Harries.