After 97 minutes of enthralling rugby Twickenham stadium fell silent as Ulster-man and Exeter Chiefs’ ‘original’ Gareth Steenson lined up a shot at goal just left of the posts. The kick sailed through, and the cheers from the Chiefs’ fans were met with more 2 minutes later as Exeter won their first ever Premiership title.
To say that this match would go down to the wire was an understatement from the off. Separated only by points difference, they played out a 35-35 draw the last time they met, and it came as no surprise when Steenson slotted a 79th minute penalty to take it to extra time.
‘To say this match would go down to the wire was an understatement’
In all truth, Chiefs should maybe have secured the result in 80 minutes. Having turned down 2 kickable penalties Jack Nowell scythed through the defence off a first phase midfield move from a lineout to go over in the right-hand corner. Steenson nailed the conversion and Exeter had the perfect start.
Wasps replied soon after with a Gopperth penalty, but Exeter scored again after an Ollie Devoto break off a scrum led to the centre offloading out the back for Phil Dollman to power over. Steenson converted for a 3-14 lead. Wasps turned the screw, the impressive Nathan Hughes starting a multiple phase move which Exeter managed to keep at bay. However, Wasps came back again and a neat interchange involving Danny Cipriani, Dan Robson, Tommy Taylor and Jimmy Gopperth saw the centre cruise under the posts.
Wasps took the lead soon after the break. With fullback Dollman down injured, Wasps worked a break down the right, and after Ollie Woodburn and Christian Wade both missed Wade’s chip ahead Eliot Daly grabbed the loose ball to dot down. Chiefs had to withstand a Wasps barrage afterwards with one memorable move starting with a speculative Cipriani pass in his own 22 which eventually led to Exeter conceding a penalty. Gopperth knocked it over and Wasps led 20-14 after 53 minutes.
A Devoto break allowed Steenson to kick 3 points on 64 minutes, before Chiefs made the odd decision to elect for a scrum after working their way from their own 22 to the Wasps line and earning a penalty. The scrum was soon followed by another, before Wasps turned over and cleared. However, with time running out Nathan Hughes conceded the penalty which allowed Steenson to give us extra time.
The final 20 minutes were all Chiefs. Once again they turned down a kickable penalty only to be turned over, and it seemed they had maybe pushed their luck too far. But, after J.P Doyle deemed there to be insufficient evidence to award a try for Sam Simmonds, and multiple resets from the resulting scrum, Doyle lost patience with the Wasps front row and gave Steenson the chance to take the trophy to Exeter.
Dai Young took positives from a match Wasps should arguably have held on to, claiming “I’m trying not to be too disappointed because I think we’ve had a fantastic season”. Indeed, it would be a surprise if Wasps were not in or around the same position next season, and they will hope to be able to add to their European performances.
‘if this is it…i will have failed massively’
Rob Baxter, meanwhile, paid tribute to the hard work of the team and staff, whilst also affirming his desire for Exeter to compete at this level more regularly, stating “as great as today is it can’t be a downward spiral for Exeter- if this is it… I’ll be hugely disappointed and I will have failed massively in a large part of my job”.
Only 7 years after achieving promotion to the Premiership Exeter’s journey is both one that will live long in the memory and provide the basis for many other teams in the future. But however many trophies this band of brothers go on to win, it seems unlikely any will top Saturday’s victory anytime soon.