Chiefs 19 Wasps 26
Exeter Chiefs 19
Mark Stevens at Sandy Park
Defeats in Devon for the Exeter Chiefs come as often as you get a sighting of Lord Lucan – not that often!
Indeed, you have to go all the way back to February 2018 to the last time Rob Baxter’s side were undone in Premiership Rugby action on their own patch.
On that occasion it was Worcester Warriors who emerged victorious, edging an unforgettable encounter 6-5 after two penalties from Chris Pennell cancelled out a try from lock Mitch Lees.
Fast forward to present day and it was another Midlands outfit, Wasps to be precise, who took the spoils on a bitterly cold afternoon in the Westcountry.
Running out for their 100th top flight appearance at Sandy Park, the Chiefs headed into this latest tussle riding high, having secured home advantage in next month’s play-offs with a hugely impressive 52-20 victory at Leicester Tigers.
Baxter opted to go with the same back division that mauled the Tigers into a seven-try submission, whilst the only changes up front saw Messrs Moon, Cowan-Dickie and Francis brought in to form a new-look front-row on rotation.
The visitors, meanwhile, made just one change to their starting line-up from that which has seen off the Warriors the week previous. Jake Cooper-Woolley came in at tight-head after Will Stuart was ruled out with an ankle injury.
Up against a stiff first half wind, the Chiefs started brightly and took just seven minutes to break the deadlock. Having worked their way cleverly into the Wasps half, Nic White’s snipe down the blindside saw him feed Henry Slade in space.
Still with work to do as the visiting cover converged on the England international, he put a deft grubber in behind the Wasps rearguard, from which Jack Nowell was able to gobble up possession and provide a strong finish in the right corner.
Joe Simmonds did his best to make it a maximum haul with the conversion, but his testing effort from the touchline had the direction, but not the power and fell short of the bar at the South End.
The Chiefs continued to look the livelier during the opening quarter, constantly looking to pull the Wasps defensive line from side to side with a range of varied attacks. Even the loss of full-back Santi Cordero – named Premiership Player of the Month for March earlier in the week to injury – failed to dampen their attacking prowess.
It therefore came as no surprise when Baxter’s side extended their lead on 22 minutes. More sustained pressure from the hosts had them on the front foot once more, the fruits of which saw White and Nowell combine to good effect. Although the Cornishman was halted just shy of the line, White was in close attendance to offer the close-range finish, which Simmonds was this time able to convert.
Twelve points to the good and seemingly in cruise control, what followed for the Chiefs was tough to swallow. Having survived a threat from winger Marcus Watson in the right-hand corner, after a stunning last-gasp tackle from Olly Woodburn, Wasps were not to be denied a second time when South African full-back Willie le Roux coasted over after Dai Young’s side had made the most of turnover ball deep inside their own half.
That try was converted as were their next two, both of which came in the final three minutes of the first half. Replacement Juan de Jongh grabbed the first, finishing off a strong carry from Nathan Hughes, before the England No.8 popped a grubber kick in behind for Watson to gather on the stroke of half time to give his side a nine-point cushion at the turn.
HALF TIME EXETER CHIEFS 12 WASPS 21
With the elements now in their favour for the second period, the Chiefs – just as they had done earlier – again started brightly. Ollie Devoto helped lead the initial charge with a trademark charge through the middle, whilst the home pack continued to probe with Tomas Francis an ever-willing runner.
Wasps, however, were standing firm under intense pressure and having happily soaked up all the Chiefs could throw at them, it was the visitors who propelled themselves down field. Hughes was again at the heart of things and he was denied a bonus point score after referee Luke Pearce and his fellow officials had deemed he had produced a double movement in his attempt to touchdown.
It was a let-off for the Chiefs, who were growing increasingly frustrated with the antics of Wasps to slow the tempo of the game down at every conceivable opportunity.
The game ebbed and flowed as it had done for most of the day, before Wasps claimed their fourth try of the game just past the hour mark. Solid approach work from the visitors had again given them decent front foot ball, which released Gabriele Lovobalavu, whose clever offload fed Zurabi Zhvania to touchdown in the right corner.
Up against it, Baxter turned to his bench for some fresh impetus in the latter stages. Certainly, the replacements added some much-needed zest and it was one of then, hooker Jack Yeandle, who gave the Chiefs a lifeline when he burrowed his way over with 11 minutes remaining to set-up a grandstand finale.
The Chiefs huffed and puffed, but they could not blow the Wasps house in despite some extreme home pressure. Hughes – who was named the game’s man of the match – was lucky to escape little more than a warning for a no-arm tackle on Ian Whitten late on, but he – along with his team-mates had done enough to secure not only a priceless win, but also a first-ever win for them at Sandy Park.
Chiefs: S Cordero (I Whitten 18), J Nowell (S Hill 63), H Slade, O Devoto, O Woodburn, J Simmonds, N White (J Maunder 63); B Moon (A Hepburn 49), L Cowan-Dickie (J Yeandle 49), T Francis (H Williams 49); S Lonsdale, O Atkins; D Ewers (R Capstick 61), D Armand, M Kvesic. Replacement (not used): T Salmon
Tries - Nowell, White, Yeandle; Conversions - J Simmonds (2)
Wasps: W Le Roux; M Watson, E Daly, G Lovobalavu, J Bassett (J de Jongh 35-40); L Sopoaga, J Simpson; Z Zhvania (S McIntyre 61), T Cruse (A Johnson 10), J Cooper-Woolley (K Brookes 45); J Launchbury (capt, B Morris 72), J Gaskell (W Rowlands 58); B Shields, N Carr, N Hughes. Replacements (not used): C Hampson, R Miller.
Tries - Le Roux, De Jongh, Watson, Zhvania; Conversions - Daly, Sopoaga (2)
Referee: L Pearce
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