Braves 26 Storm 51
Exeter Braves 26
Saracens Storm 51
Mark Stevens at Sandy Park
Exeter Braves saw their hopes of a home semi-final in this season’s Premiership Rugby Shield blown away by a destructive second half display from the Saracens Storm.
With little to choose between the two sides at the break, the Braves felt the full force of the Londoners as they claimed the win that sealed top spot in the Southern Conference.
Their success in the Westcountry sunshine means they will have home advantage in the last four against defending champions Northampton Wanderers, while Ricky Pellow’s Braves outfit will have to make the long trek to Newcastle Falcons after they topped the Northern Conference.
On a glorious day in Devon, the Braves – who included returning international duo Alex Cuthbert and Sam Simmonds in their starting line-up – had to withstand a powerful opening from the visitors, who struck twice inside the opening ten minutes to give them a healthy advantage early on.
Scrum-half Tom Whiteley claimed their opening score, latching onto a pass from full-back Matt Gallagher to race in under the posts for the opener, before prop Ralph Adams-Hale got in on the scoring act, forcing his way over from a close-range line-out move to make it 12-0.
The Braves needed to find a response of sorts quickly and this they did within three minutes. A penalty allowed Harvey Skinner to position them five metres from the Sarries line, after which the home pack used the resultant set-piece to guide hooker Elvis Taione over for the score, which Skinner converted well from the left touchline.
Taione’s touchdown pleased not only the majority of the 2,300 crowd inside Sandy Park, but also gave the Braves the boost they craved. Up and running, it was not long before the Braves were scoring again, Tongan international Taione claiming his second when he finished off some sustained home pressure for a second time.
In front for the first time, home joy proved short-lived as within a few moments the visitors were back in front. Little appeared to be on initially, but when they opted for a simple chip kick in behind, it was fly-half Max Malins who was quickest to the bouncing ball, beating opposite number Skinner and touching down for a try, he was also able to convert.
As half-time approached, however, it was the Braves who edged back in front, a powerful carry through the middle from full-back Max Bodilly gave them ‘hot ball’ deep inside the Sarries 22, after which they were able to feed Tongan powerhouse Onehunga Kaufusi, who bumped off the advances of a visiting tackler to dot down under the posts for the converted score.
HALF TIME EXETER BRAVES 21 SARACENS STORM 19
With little to choose between either side at the turn, it was Saracens who again raced out of the traps the quickest on the resumption. Just two minutes had elapsed when the lively Whiteley sniped off the back of a ruck, shaking off the attentions of Kaufusi along the way, to restore his side’s lead with the try converted by Malins.
Back in front once more, it was a position the visitors would not surrender. Having gleaned two successive penalties from the Braves, Saracens had nudged themselves back to within sniffing distance of the Exeter line. Using their powerful pack to do the damage with a simple, yet direct approach, it was replacement Hayden Thompson-Stringer who emerged from a mass of bodies to take the acclaim of his team-mates.
Things would get no easier for the Braves as they then lost skipper Tom Hendrickson to the sidelines for ten minutes when he was penalised for slapping a ball down on halfway – and whilst he was sat in the cooler, the Storm were able to add further tries to their tally.
No.8 Sione Vailanu was next over, finishing off from close range once more, before Whiteley claimed his hat-trick score, gliding over after a savage counter-attack from the visitors was led by the speedy Dom Morris.
Up 45-21 with just ten minutes remaining, the Storm knew they were pretty much home and dry. The Braves, though, refused to lie down and their determined efforts were rewarded with a bonus point score for winger Ian Whitten late on.
Sadly, it was all a little too late for the home side as two late penalties from the boot of Malins wrapped up proceedings for the Storm, who gained revenge for their opening round defeat to the Braves in the compettion.
Exeter Braves: M Bodilly; A Cuthbert (S Hill h/t), I Whitten (H Strong 72), T Hendrickson (capt), J Short; H Skinner, S Maunder (J Snow 61); B Keast (J Kenny 64), E Taione (J Innard 54), M Low (A Petch 61); T Salmon (L Pearson 72), J Caulfield; J McRae, S Simmonds (O Kaufusi 34), T Lawday.
Tries - Taione (2), Kaufusi, Whitten; Conversions - Skinner (3)
Yellow Card: Hendrickson
Saracens Storm: M Gallagher; V Hakalo (H Taylor 61), D Morris, T Griffiths (R Bird-Tulloch 80), E Obatoyinbo (C Watson 80); M Malins, T Whiteley; R Adams-Hale (H Thompson-Stringer 34), T Woolstencroft (T McElroy 80), C Judge (B Walker 69); D Day (capt), J Kpoku (A Maka 61); N Isiekwe, B Earl, S Vailanu (C Boon 80).
Tries - Whiteley (3), Adams-Hale, Malins, Thompson-Stringer, Vailanu; Conversions - Malins (5); Penalties - Malins (2)
Referee: G Selwood.