Chiefs 19 Wasps 13
Exeter Chiefs 19
Mark Stevens at Twickenham
There was to be no Twickenham torment for Exeter Chiefs this time round as Rob Baxter’s side sealed a dream double.
Just seven days after being crowned Kings of Europe, the Chiefs followed it up by claiming their second Gallagher Premiership title with victory over Wasps.
One year and six days after the 2019/20 campaign began, Devon’s finest wrapped it up with a gutsy, never-say-die performance that sealed the defining moment in the club’s history to date.
It wasn’t pretty, the inclement weather put paid to that, but it mattered not as Henry Slade’s first half score, plus 14 points from the boot of skipper Joe Simmonds, ensured their triumph.
Wasps, it has to be said, played their part - Jacob Umaga’s try, plus the boot of Jimmy Gopperth, always kept them in contention. However, it was never going to deny this Band of Brothers, who have literally given everything to the cause in the toughest of seasons.
Fresh from European glory in Bristol seven days earlier, the Chiefs arrived at HQ for a fifth successive Premiership final against familiar foes in the shape of Wasps, the side they defeated to lift the title back in 2017.
Ahead of kick-off, Baxter made four changes in personnel to his winning formula. Up front, Sam Skinner and Jannes Kirsten came into the pack, whilst behind Olly Woodburn and Ollie Devoto, both hugely impressive in the semi-final win against former club Bath, were also included from the outset.
Wasps, meanwhile, came into the contest having had to endure a week off disruptions due to positive Covid-19 tests within their camp. It robbed them of four probable squad members, but it was still a handy looking line-up, which included the likes of Joe Launchbury, Dan Robson and the dangerous Gopperth.
On a miserable October night in the capital, the heavens opened just prior to kick-off, ensuring the surface was greasy and the ball made to resemble a bar of soap.
The opening, though, was frantic as both sides tore into each other like two prized fighters battling for heavyweight success. It was a decent enough arm wrestle up front, whilst play out the back was limited with both sides using the boot to earn valuable territory.
Skinner twice stole two early Wasps line-outs, but the Chiefs could not prosper and it was their rivals who broke the deadlock on 13 minutes, Gopperth landing a routine penalty after Skinner was pulled up by referee Craig Maxwell-Keys for infringing at a ruck.
That lead, however, proved short-lived as the Chiefs - with their first meaningful foray into enemy territory - got them their first try. The forwards laid the foundation with some robust carrying, before it was spun out to the back division where England star Slade hitch-kicked his way into a turn of speed that saw him leave two defenders trailing in his wake.
It was a sublime score, which skipper Simmonds duly converted to give the Chiefs a maximum haul.
Moments late and Baxter’s side threatened again, prop Alec Hepburn darting through a space in the Wasps defensive line. He was chopped down by a clever last-gasp tackle, but was unable to find Kirsten from the floor as the Wasps defence did their best to scramble.
Wasps made the most of the let-off and in their next phase of possession, they stung their rivals with their first try of the game. Like the Chiefs, they used their forwards to do the donkey work, before it was delivered back in field to Umaga, who picked a lovely line through the heart of the Exeter backline, before skipping his way under the posts to claim the converted score.
With little to choose between either side - and the conditions not getting any easier - it was the Chiefs who started the re-assert themselves and by the break they had hauled themselves back into contention, courtesy of two penalties from Simmonds, the second of which was the last kick of the half.
HALF TIME EXETER CHIEFS 13 WASPS 10
It was a slender advantage for Baxter’s side to take into the second period. However, the Chiefs dominated the opening exchanges, positioning themselves within sniffing distance of the Wasps try-line.
They pressed and probed with a series of ferocious attacking waves, but just as they looked set to strike, great work from the Premiership’s Player of the Year, Jack Willis, saw them turned over and the chance of adding to their slender lead lost.
Exeter continued to push hard, but when a Slade penalty failed to find touch following some great work by Wasps replacement Lima Sopanga, the Midlanders used the New Zealander’s kick to chase down field, creating a penalty chance of their own.
Under the pump, the Chiefs knew they had to dig deep into their defensive reserves. Sadly, the subsequent play saw Wasps hammer hard in their own press, winning another penalty which allowed the deadly Gopperth to bring the scores level on the hour mark.
As the game entered into the final quarter, the destiny of the title was still unknown. Both sides threw fresh muscle into the fray in a bid to find that slender upper hand.
In the end, it was the Chiefs who found the answer as Simmonds slotted them back in front when Wasps were penalised for failing to roll away after Devoto had been released off a close-range driving maul.
The lead was just three points, but crucially the Chiefs were in front as the clock edged ever closer to the red. Wasps, though, weren’t finishedand having been granted two penalties of their own, they declined to kick for goal, instead opting for greater reward from a kick to the corner.
Exeter held at bay their first thrust off a line-out, before a second attempt saw Jonny Gray snaffle a loose line-out from Oghre. It allowed the Chiefs to drive down field, winning a penalty of their own.
It relieved the pressure, before two subsequent penalties, the last of which Simmonds slotted in the final minute signalled party time for the Chiefs.
Ten years on from being promoted into the top-flight for the first time, now the Chiefs were Double Champions.
There were tears of joy, particularly for departing legend Gareth Steenson, but this was an awesome team effort.
Another chapter in the history of the club has been written, but expect more to follow in the future.
Chiefs: S Hogg; J Nowell, H Slade, O Devoto, O Woodburn; J Simmonds (capt), J Maunder (S Hidalgo-Clyne 61); A Hepburn (B Moon 61), L Cowan-Dickie (J Yeandle 61), H Williams (T Francis 61); S Skinner, J Hill (J Gray 55); D Ewers, J Kirsten, S Simmonds. Replacements (not used): J Vermeulen, G Steenson, I Whitten.
Try - Slade; Conversion - J Simmonds; Penalties - J Simmonds (4)
Wasps: M Minozzi (L Sopoaga 56); Z Kibirige, J de Jongh (M Le Bourgeois 74), J Gopperth, J Bassett; J Umaga, D Robson; T West (B Harris 54), T Taylor (G Oghre 50), J Toomaga-Allen (B Alo 66); J Launchbury (capt), W Rowlands; J Willis, T Young, T Willis (J Gaskell 47). Replacements (not used): B Morris, B Vellacott
Try - Umaga; Conversion - Gopperth; Penalties - Gopperth (2)
Referee: C Maxwell-Keys