A late Damien Welch try saw a share of the points at Sandy Park on Saturday. Having fought back from 14-27 down, fly-half Gareth Steenson had the chance to claim the win, but his touchline conversion drifted across the face of the goal- much to the dismay of the crowd behind him.
Although Chiefs will be disappointed at not having won the game, it was Gloucester who, on the day, were the better team. Chiefs struggled to break through a committed defence and often resorted to kicking.
However, it was from this territorial game that Gloucester scored their first try. Chiefs’ fullback Lachie Turner was harshly adjudged to have stepped into touch after he took a kick on the touchline, and from the resulting line-out a clever front peel move saw the visitors camped on the Exeter try line. After a phase of forward driving Mark Atkinson found Matt Scott on his shoulder to send him scampering under the posts.
Chiefs replied soon after. An erroneous kick out on the full from James Hook gave Exeter a line-out on the 22 which they mauled to within 10 metres of the line. After sustained pressure Thomas Waldrom barged his way through Billy Twelvetrees to score. Steenson added the simple conversion.
Gloucester responded almost instantly though, again controversially. Hook fielded a kick on the touchline and appeared to have his foot in touch, yet he was allowed to continue play. From the ensuing ruck Laidlaw sent up a huge box kick which allowed Charlie Sharples to out-jump Steenson, gather the ball and slalom his way to the line. Although a fitting way to celebrate his 200th appearance it seemed clear, even from the stands, the try should not have stood.
Chiefs hit back 5 minutes later. Continued pressure on the Gloucester line lead to a break from the impressive Sam Hill and he fed Ian Whitten for a simple finish. Steenson nailed the kick to level the scores. However, any hopes that Exeter might be able to hold on until half time were ruined by Billy Twelvetrees who stepped up to nail a penalty from halfway which meant Gloucester went in 17-14 up.
The opening 10 minutes of the second half saw end-to-end rugby as both sides made errors, but there was no score until Greig Laidlaw sent over a penalty minutes after missing one. It would be Gloucester who scored next too after Ben Morgan stripped the ball in the tackle and released winger David Halaifonua, who stepped his man and passed back to the number-eight for an easy finish. Laidlaw added the conversion and things looked bleak for the Chiefs.
And they left it late to start their comeback. Ian Whitten grabbed his second in the corner after a fantastic Lachie Turner offload and minutes later Steenson sent over a penalty to make the score 22-27 with 8 minutes to play. A tense final 5 minutes saw Exeter win a penalty on halfway which Steenson sent right onto the 5m line. Chiefs mauled the lineout and Damien Welch went over to score, before Steenson’s unfortunate miss.
A sullen Rob Baxter bemoaned his team’s lack of quality for much of the match whilst also reflecting on the “disappointing” news that Jack Nowell has come back from the England Camp with a “9 or 10cm tear” to his quad. Nowell joins Anthony Watson and Sam Jones as casualties of the camp all with serious injuries.
On the positive side Exeter did come out with 3 points as opposed to Gloucester’s 2 due to their 4 tries. Sam Hill played excellently, looking both physical and elusive when running with the ball and with fewer handling errors across the backline this game could have been a much simpler affair.