Warriors 18 Chiefs 24
Worcester Warriors 18
Exeter Chiefs 24
Mark Stevens at Sixways
Who says lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place?
Twelve months ago, Exeter Chiefs defied the odds to stage a remarkable comeback – scoring two tries in the final two minutes – to snatch a famous win at Worcester’s Sixways Stadium.
Present day and Rob Baxter’s men were repeating the feat as Dean Mumm’s late touchdown saw the Devon club keep alive their quest to be back amongst Europe’s elite in next season’s Heineken Cup with another dramatic success.
With just two minutes remaining, the towering Aussie collected his first try in Exeter colours, as his simple pick-and-go from close range downed Richard Hill’s Warriors for a second time this season.
In a dominant first half, the Chiefs ran in tries from Luke Arscott and Gareth Steenson, the latter of whom also converted both, to lead 14-6 at the turn.
Andy Goode punted over first half penalties for the hosts, before Worcester rallied strongly in the second period to add tries from Matt Kvesic and Josh Drauniniu, the latter of which Goode also converted.
The Chiefs, though, were not to be denied and with Steenson kicking a penalty and a conversion to Mumm’s late score, the battle for the top six is set to intensify over the closing weeks of the season.
Undone in the dying minutes by Leicester’s Toby Flood the previous week, the Chiefs arrived in the Midlands with a largely unchanged squad as they looked to return to winning ways at the first opportunity.
Indeed, the sole change to the starting XV came at openside flanker where the experienced James Scaysbrook returned to the fray having missed the Tigers clash to be at the birth of his second child.
Scaysbrook’s inclusion meant Ben White was the unlucky man as he dropped to the bench at the expense of former Worcester favourite Kai Hortsmann; whilst also added to the reserve ranks was Fijian force Sireli Naqelevuki, whose last-gasp score in the same fixture last season enabled the Chiefs to seal a famous fightback and with it Heineken Cup rugby for the first time in the club’s history.
The Warriors, meanwhile, made five changes to their line-up from that which was soundly beaten 26-6 at London Irish last time out.
Three of them came in the pack where there were starts for Euan Murray, Chris Jones and Semisi Taulava, whilst behind Jonny Arr and Josh Matavesi – one of four former Chiefs in the home ranks – were also included from the outset.
In a fast opening to the game, it was the Warriors who were first to show, opening their account inside three minutes when Goode slotted a straight-forward penalty after Dave Ewers had been singled out for infringing at a ruck deep inside his own 22.
Home joy proved short-lived, however, as within minutes the visitors had claimed the lead for themselves following a sustained spell of pressure. Ewers, Hoani Tui and Jason Shoemark all threatened the Worcester line, before full-back Arscott emerged from a mass of bodies to claim the opening try, which Steenson duly converted.
Again there was an instant response to the score, this time from the Warriors, who having seen a David Lemi try chalked off for dropping the ball with the line in sight, cut the deficit to a point when Goode landed a second penalty after Exeter’s Jack Nowell was adjudged to have held on in the tackle.
Despite the kick, the Chiefs continued to look the more threatening in attack and it came as no surprise when they added a second try on 21 minutes through Steenson. The Irishman was the beneficiary of some outstanding build-up play that involved Ewers, Damian Welch and Richard Baxter, before Haydn Thomas offered the simple pop pass to his half-back colleague to go over.
Exeter’s superior strength, together with the ability to move the ball at pace, was causing no end of problems for the home sides, who then survived another series of raids on their line with some scramble defence.
At the other end, Goode saw a long-range penalty chance fall short of the target, before another lively break from the speedy Lemi threatened to cause more concern in the Exeter camp when he sniped through a gap in centre field.
The Chiefs, it has to be said, were looking solid in defence and as half time drew to a close, one final attacking flurry from the Devonians threatened to bring more reward. However, the Warriors held firm under intense pressure.
HALF TIME WORCESTER WARRIORS 6 EXETER CHIEFS 14
On the resumption, it didn’t take the Chiefs long to get back into their stride as a powerful scrum just inside the Worcester half quickly brought about a penalty, which Steenson dispatched with aplomb to extend his side’s lead to nine points.
Worcester needed a response of sorts and it arrived within two minutes as a soft penalty from the Chiefs allowed Goode to kick for the corner. From the resultant line-out, the home pack combined as one to powerfully drive flanker Kvesic over for their opening try, which Goode was unable to convert from wide on the right touchline.
It was just the lift Hill’s men needed. Suddenly it was the home side looking the more dangerous as Chris Pennell’s clever counter from full-back cut through the middle of the Exeter defence, only for Nowell to perform an excellent scramble tackle on the onrushing Lemi.
Having survived that threat, the Chiefs could not hold Worcester’s next venture into their 22. Another soft penalty – this time for holding on – allowed Goode to again kick for the corner.
In a carbon-copy move of their first score, skipper James Percival collected the line-out, the pack drove for the line, only to be held by some stout Exeter defence. The difference this time, however, was scrum-half Jonny Arr spotted the numerical advantage on the blindside and former Chief Drauniniu was able to dot down in the corner for the score, which Goode this time converted.
The switch in fortunes was certainly a stark contrast to the first half, but the Chiefs had the chance to restore their lead midway through the half when Steenson was afforded a second penalty chance. Sadly, his kick went wide of the right post and Worcester were spared.
As the minutes ticked by, the Chiefs looked to up the tempo. The attacking intent was certainly there, especially when Shoemark look to cut through, but as the visitors looked for quick ball a cynical piece of play from Josh Matavesi saw the Fijian dispatched to the sin-bin for the remainder of the game.
With the man advantage, the Chiefs looked to press home a five-metre scrum. However, the move backfired when referee David Rose penalised them for dropping the scrum and Worcester were able to clear their lines.
The Chiefs, however, were not finished. On came the heavy artillery in the shape of Sireli Naqelevuki and Craig Mitchell and in one last throw of the dice, the visitors again delivered another telling hammer blow late on.
Driving deep into the Worcester 22, Dollman was initially held short before the forwards took charge. A handful of pick-and-go moves followed, before Mumm picked up, pumped his legs and drove over the line, much to the delight of the travelling Tribe.
Steenson duly obliged with the extras to seal another memorable afternoon at Sixways
Worcester Warriors: C Pennell; J Drauniniu, A Grove, J Matavesi, D Lemi; A Goode, J Arr; M Mullan (C Jones 73), E Shervington (A Lutui 73), E Murray (J Andress 64); J Percival (capt), C Jones (D Schofield 65); N Best, M Kvesic, S Taulava (S Betty 70-74). Replacements (not used): S Perry, D Gray, J Clarke.
Tries – Kvesic, Drauniniu; Conversion – Goode; Penalties – Goode (2)
Yellow Card: Matavesi
Exeter Chiefs: L Arscott; J Nowell, P Dollman, J Shoemark (S Naqelevuki 75), M Jess; G Steenson, H Thomas (W Chudley 73); C Rimmer (B Sturgess 60), J Yeandle (C Whitehead 60), H Tui (C Mitchell 78); D Mumm, D Welch (J Hanks 63); D Ewers (B White 60), J Scaysbrook, R Baxter. Replacements (not used): H Slade.
Tries – Arscott, Steenson, Mumm; Conversions – Steenson (3); Penalty – Steenson
Referee: D Rose
Touch Judges: S Lee & N Carrick
4th Official: G MacDonald
UP NEXT FOR THE CHIEFS: v London Irish (H), Aviva Premiership, Saturday, April 13 (3pm)