Having lost each game in the first two weeks of the 2016/17 Aviva Premiership, Exeter Chiefs duly got their first win of the season on the board against Harlequins. Gareth Steenson’s move into the starting XV at fly-half, with Henry Slade going out to 12 and Sam Hill to the bench to accommodate, added much needed control to the Chiefs’ game.
Harlequins last meeting with the Chiefs saw the London side lose 24-62 and although today’s win was not quite as emphatic for the Devon side, they still managed to run in a total of five tries, including a hat trick for England hooker and Man of the Match Luke Cowan-Dickie. Although Harlequins rallied they failed to secure the loss bonus point, the final score 36-25.
“The players have been under a bit of pressure this week because we were bottom of the Premiership coming into this round,” stated Head Coach Rob Baxter. This is the first time Exeter have been in this position since their promotion to the Aviva Premiership but quickly answered any questions.
Flanker Don Armand’s foray down the wing laid the foundation for the home side’s first try, with Aussie international Lachie Turner eventually thumping over in the corner from close range.
However, with Steenson failing with the conversion attempt the visitor’s struck back with two Tim Swiel penalties within the following two minutes, one from the subsequent restart. Chiefs will be disappointed with how easily they allowed this score to be cancelled out.
However, the home fans were soon cheering again when it looked like Ian Whitten would cross the try line, having been unleased down the wing by Turner and Ollie Woodburn, only for him to be bundled into touch merely metres short.
Supporters did not have to wait long for the second try though, as Harlequins’ hooker Rob Buchanan overthrew the subsequent lineout to his opposite number Cowan-Dickie who duly crossed the whitewash.
Another try from full-back Turner, embracing the opportunity given to him through Phil Dollman’s injury, gave the Chiefs a 19-6 lead only a quarter of the way through the game.
Unfortunately the Chiefs allowed their opponents to quickly respond. After winning a penalty in Exeter’s 22 Harlequins used one of their host’s favourite weapons against them, the driving maul from the 5m line out, to score a try through Buchanan. Swiel’s conversion took the score to 19-13, the closest it would be for the remainder of the match.
The Devon boys’ much loved rolling maul proved fortuitous for them once again though, with Cowan-Dickie pushing over to secure the four try bonus point. Steenson consolidated this lead with a penalty before half time.
Soon into the second half another Cowan-Dickie try, again from a rolling maul, gave the Chiefs a 36-13 lead. Harlequins attempted a fight back, captain Danny Care sniping through the middle to cross for the visitor’s second and winger Charlie Walker followed soon after for the 36-25 final score.
With replacement prop Tomas Francis receiving a red card for an accidental kick to Care’s head, the Chiefs were down to 14 for the last eight minutes of play. However, much to the Sandy Park crowd’s delight their team hung on and denied Harlequins the losing bonus point. This could be crucial later in the season.
This was a much improved performance from Exeter Chiefs and they will be looking to take the forward physicality and heightened sharpness they rediscovered this weekend into their match against newly promoted Bristol on Friday evening. Baxter’s reshuffling of his midfield saw Chiefs with the confidence they had last season. Let’s hope this continues.
Scores 5-0 Turner try; 5-3 Swiel pen; 5-6 Swiel pen; 10-6 Cowan-Dickie try; 12-6 Steenson con; 17-6 Turner try; 19-6, Steenson con; 19-11 Buchanan try; 19-13 Swiel con; 24-13 Cowan-Dickie try; 26-13 Steenson con; 29-13 Steenson pen; 34-13 Cowan-Dickie try; 36-13 Steenson con; 36-18 Care try; 36-20 Swiel con; 36-25 Walker try.
Exeter: L Turner (J Short, 73); O Woodburn, O Devoto (S Hill, 56), H Slade, I Whitten; G Steenson, W Chudley (D Lewis, 63); B Moon (A Hepburn, 53), L Cowan-Dickie (J Yeandle, 53), G Holmes (T Francis, 53), D Welch (O Atkins, 65), G Parling, D Armand (D Dennis, 46), J Salvi, T Waldrom.
Red card: T Francis, 73.
Harlequins: M Brown; M Yarde, J Marchant (A Alofa, 59), W Stanley (J Lang, 75), C Walker; T Swiel, D Care; J Marler (M Lambert, 57), R Buchanan (D Ward, 47), K Sinckler (W Collier, 47), S Twomey (G Merrick, 47), J Horwill, C Robshaw, L Wallace, J Clifford (J Chisholm, 57).
Referee: Matthew Carley (Kent)