Online Sport Editor Matt Bugler was at Sandy Park to witness Exeter Chiefs record a much-needed win over London Irish.
Exeter Chiefs secured their first win in six Premiership games and just their second in nine matches after a comprehensive 18-0 victory over London Irish. The shut-out was the first time ever that Chiefs have kept a clean sheet in the Premiership.
Having not seen his side win since before Christmas, Exeter head coach Rob Baxter labelled the fixture a “must-win” game over an Irish side struggling in 10th place in the league. Chiefs have seen their own Heineken Cup ambitions take a hit in recent weeks, dropping off to nine points behind sixth-placed Sale before this match.
Baxter handed a first league start to Cornish hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie, as well as giving the nod to 20 year old Henry Slade at fly half ahead of the experienced Gareth Steenson. Slade was to have an excellent game, and opened the scoring with a penalty; his fluorescent orange left boot holding firm under pressure.
Irish had created the first opportunity and spent the first ten minutes threatening the Chiefs try-line. However, the Chiefs’ defence remained strong, and pressure was relieved firstly when Irish dropped the ball near the try line, and secondly when Chiefs won a turnover inside their 22.
After withholding this strong start from Irish, Chiefs began to build some momentum, and had a big chance to score the first try as Slade’s grubber kick was smothered by the impressive Marland Yarde. It went back to a penalty, and an easy kick put Chiefs 6-0 up.
Irish won a penalty shortly after, and what looked like a straightforward opportunity to put points on the board was passed up as James O’Connor struck the post. At the end of the half both teams wasted big opportunities to cross over. Irish player Shane Geraghty charged down a Matt Jess clearance inside the Exeter 22, but the ball fell beyond the reach of the visitors’ hands.
Exeter then had a big break down the right hand side, and Phil Dollman carried the ball for what felt like an eternity before his eventual offload to Matt Jess was agonisingly just behind him.
Straight after the restart Dollman atoned for his error, crossing over on the far right side after the ball was worked over from the left by Luke Arscott. Slade added the extras from a tight angle off the post to make it 13-0 to Exeter.
Irish’s biggest threat was coming from Yarde, but his teammates were unable to make the most of his romp into Exeter territory. After an entertaining first half, play started to become more scrappy and broken up, as the pack dominated in the muddy midfield.
Irish knew they had to go for a try when they won penalties, but every time they pushed forward the Chiefs scrum stayed strong. Chiefs had to survive ten minutes with 14 players after Ben White was sent to the sin bin for a nasty spear tackle on Darren Allinson.
Irish failed to make the most of this numerical advantage, and their offensive play lacked enough spark to cause Exeter any real problems. The result was put beyond doubt in the 67th minute when Arscott’s driving run down the right set up Ian Whitten to cross over after one step.
The angle was too tight for Slade but he went off to a rousing reception, along with Man of the Match Phil Dollman. The remaining minutes saw two tired teams scrap it out in the scrum, with Exeter impressively shutting out their opposition. A solid if unspectacular display will hopefully set the Chiefs up for a late push for the top six in the last six matches of the season.bookmark me