Chiefs 47 Welsh 16
Exeter Chiefs 47
London Welsh 16
Mark Stevens at Sandy Park
Exeter Chiefs returned to winning ways in the Aviva Premiership by turning in a stellar five-star display against visiting London Welsh at Sandy Park.
Hurting following a five-game winless streak, Rob Baxter's side responded in the best possible fashion as they posted their biggest-ever total in the top flight against the Exiles.
Tries from Jack Yeandle, Tom Hayes, Damian Welch, Sireli Naqelevuki and Jack Nowell were the undoubted highlights, but fly-half Gareth Steenson again underlined his worth to the cause as he struck 22 points with an unblemished record from the kicking tee.
Welsh did their best to contain the Chiefs, particularly in the first period as three Gavin Henson penalties kept them in touch, but even though Henson added the extras to Phil MacKenzie's second half score, last season's Championship victors were well beaten by the Westcountry outfit.
Struggling to find their form in recent weeks, the Chiefs hoped a return to home comforts would provide them with the necessary base from which to get their season firmly back on track.
Undone on the artificial turf at Saracens seven days earlier, Baxter made six changes in personnel with recalls for Naqelevuki and Haydn Thomas in the back division, whilst up front Carl Rimmer, Hayes, Ben White and Yeandle - on his first-ever Premiership start - were included from the outset.
Like their Devon hosts, Welsh have also found wins hard to find in recent times and their loss at home to Sale Sharks last time out, extended their winless streak to ten games. They too made changes with Seb Jewell and Tyson Keats replacing Sonny Parker and Alex Davies respectively in the back division; whilst up front Greg Bateman was given the nod at tight-head ahead of Paulica Ion.
It was, however, the visitors who made the early breakthrough as Henson, the Wales and British Lions international, slotted them in front with a penalty from 25 metres after referee Andrew Small penalised the Chiefs for coming in at the side.
That lead proved short-lived, however, as within minutes the Chiefs drew level when Steenson dissected the posts with a kick of his own following a powerful shove from the home pack.
But no sooner had Exeter restored parity, they gifted the lead back to their rivals as Naqelevuki was spotted straying offside in midfield, allowing Henson's right boot to land a second blow from a similar range.
Again the Chiefs responded quickly, creating fast ball through runs from Dean Mumm and Ben White, before the visitors fell foul of referee Small for offside. Again Steenson stepped forward to deliver a telling blow to level the game up.
With little to choose between either side in the first quarter, the game livened up shortly after when a stunning kick return from Luke Arscott got the Devonians onto the front foot for the first time. As the full-back sped his way through the heart of the Welsh defence, his attempted offload to Jason Shoemark was sadly spilled by the Kiwi centre as he closed in on the line.
Home groans, though, proved short-lived as the intervention of touch judge Peter Huckle saw him single out Exiles wing Phil McKenzie for an off-the-ball tug on Thomas. It afforded Steenson another shot at the target and the Ulsterman didn't disappoint as he plundered his third kick of the afternoon.
As the penalty count continued to rise, Henson and Steenson traded successful kicks, before the Chiefs finally made their growing dominance tell.
Having won a penalty deep inside the Welsh 22, Chiefs skipper Hayes opted for the corner and the subsequent catch-and-drive move. Initially the visitors did well to repel the home threat, before Thomas fed a short ball to Yeandle, who burrowed his way over from close range for the try that Steenson duly converted.
It was no more than the Chiefs deserved as they slowly looked to stamp their authority on the Exiles, who claimed their maiden Premiership victory in the corresponding fixture back in September 16-15 at the Kassam Stadium.
And just before the break they came close again when Thomas stole a loose ball from the back of a Welsh ruck, before sniping down the right flank at pace. As the Welsh defence honed in on the diminutive scrum-half, he shipped the ball back inside to Shoemark, who was quickly swallowed up by a sea of red defenders.
HALF TIME EXETER CHIEFS 19 LONDON WELSH 9
On the resumption, the Chiefs were quickly into their stride as the impressive Luke Arscott threatened once again, cutting a lovely line off another Thomas pass to get the hosts within sight of the Welsh line. However, the home side failed to make the most of his burst, spilling the ball in the ensuing play.
It was a brief let-off for Lyn Jones' men as the Chiefs claimed their second try just minutes later. Naqelevuki started the ball rolling with a rampaging run through the middle; then as the home side created hot ball, the overlap allowed Scaysbrook to fire a looping pass out to Hayes, who was waiting on the flank to touchdown.
Welsh needed a rapid response and it duly arrived as they claimed their first try of the game almost immediately. With a scrum deep inside the Chiefs 22, the visitors cleverly worked the ball across their back division to where Canadian winger Mackenzie was able to collect and dot down. Henson obliged with a testing touchline conversion to cut the deficit back to ten points once more.
Any hopes of a Welsh revival, though, were quickly extinguished as Baxter's side claimed their third converted try when replacement Welch was able to claim his maiden score for the club when he finished - along with a forgettable dive - a slick handling move in the right-hand corner.
Whereas the first half had been one to forget, the second period was already proving a much different affair as both sides look to attack at will. Indeed, the pace had intensified that much it probably caught referee Small cold as he had to limp out of the action with a pulled calf.
Fourth official Darren Gammage was introduced into the fray and his first action was to signal the all-important bonus point for the Chiefs as the 'Fijian Force' Naqelevuki left a trail of destruction as he cantered his way over the line following another clever Exeter attack.
Replacements aplenty were introduced by both sides as the game entered into the final quarter, but still the Chiefs were hungry for more points. Baxter's men pushed forward in their droves, but Welsh were valiantly holding firm under mounting pressure.
The Chiefs, though, were not to be denied and with five minutes remaining they put the shine on a polished performance when Cornishman Nowell emerged from a mass of bodies to sprint clear and score under the sticks.
Steenson, as he done all afternoon, banged over the conversion to ensure a record points total for the Chiefs in the Premiership.
Chiefs: L Arscott; J Nowell, S Naqelevuki (P Dollman 59), J Shoemark (I Mieres 60), M Jess; G Steenson, H Thomas (W Chudley 70); C Rimmer (B Moon 63), J Yeandle (N Clark 63), H Tui (A Brown 41); T Hayes (capt), D Mumm (D Welch 42); B White (D Ewers 63), J Scaysbrook, R Baxter.
Tries - Yeandle, Hayes, Welch, Naqelevuki, Nowell; Conversions - Steenson (5); Penalties - Steenson (4)
Welsh: T Arscott; P McKenzie, G Tiesi, S Jewell (S Parker 60), N Scott; G Henson, T Keats (R Lewis 59); F Montanella (D Bristow 59), N Briggs (J Tideswell 28), G Bateman (D George 71); J Mills (capt), M Corker; A Balding, J Cabello Farias, E Jackson (M Purdy 60). Replacement (not used): G Ross
Try - MacKenzie; Conversion - Henson; Penalties - Henson (3)
Referee: A Small
Touch Judges: A Pearce & P Huckle.
4th Official: D Gammage
UP NEXT FOR THE CHIEFS: v Harlequins (A), Aviva Premiership, Saturday, March 3 (3.15pm)