Chiefs 22 Harlequins 49
Exeter Chiefs 22
Mark Stevens at Sandy Park
Exeter were dealt a hefty dose of ‘capital punishment’ as Harlequins booked their place in this season’s Premiership Rugby Cup Final with victory over the Chiefs at Sandy Park.
Ricky Pellow’s side simply had no answer to the power, pace and precision of the Londoners, who ran in six tries on the day, but could easily have added a few more in the prcoess.
Harlequins dominated pretty much from start to finish, using a number of their frontline stars to pave their way to the season’s first showpiece event.
Alex Dombrandt and Gabriel Ibitoye both bagged try doubles, whilst there were further touchdowns for Glen Young, Ross Chisholm and Marcus Smith, who also weighed in with a further 14 points with the boot.
The Chiefs countered with scores from Sam Skinner, James Short and two from debutant Tom Price, but it was never enough on an afternoon when they were distinctly second best.
Back in Premiership Rugby Cup action for the first time since mid-October, it was a much-changed Chiefs line-up that took to the field from that which had faced against Sale Sharks in the league the week previous. Only scrum-half Stuart Townsend start both games as the hosts took the opportunity to run the rule over a large nucleus of theirother first-team stars.
Harlequins, on the other hand, stuck with virtually the same side which had dismantled Saracens at The Stoop. They did, however, have to make an early change as winger Cadan Murley was forced off inside three minutes after he was left ‘sparko’ following a hefty collision with Exeter flanker Sean Lonsdale.
Up against a stiff downfield breeze, it was the Chiefs who started the brighter. An early attack involving Phil Dollman and Max Bodilly created space down the right, but hooker Jordon Poole was unable to hold onto the latter’s pass and the chance came and went in an instance.
At the other end, Bodilly was called into action in helping to cover the danger after Aaron Morris had threatened down the left flank, the Chiefs man just winning the race to the try-line after the Quins’ man had followed up his clever chip over the top.
If that was close for the Londoners, so too was their next chance which saw the lively Ibitoye denied an opening try when he knocked on in the process of latching onto a clever grubber kick in behind from England international Danny Care.
The Chiefs were living dangerously under heavy visiting pressure, but the damn finally burst when Smith shot his side in front with a penalty after the home side were penalised for staying offside in midfield.
Pellow’s side looked for an immediate response, laying siege with a 16-phase attack deep inside the Harlequins 22. Sadly, it came to nothing as a forced pass from Bodilly saw the ball spurt out the side, allowing the visitors to clear the danger.
Positioned back deep in the Exeter half, Quins used a penalty to the corner to set the platform for their opening try on 23 minutes. Working the ball from right to left across the back division, it eventually ended up in the hands of Ibitoye, who shook off the attentions of Bodilly, before offering a delightful offload to Dombrandt, who did the rest with a strong finish in the corner.
Harlequins were dominating proceedings and they thought they had added to their tally just moments later, Ibitoye denied on this occasion by a great cover tackle from Chiefs fly-half Harvey Skinner as he attempted to touchdown in the corner.
Ibitoye, though, was proving a constant thorn in the side of the Chiefs and when they threatened once again, this time he was not to be denied, the fleet-footed flyer coasting over from a Care pop pass for the simplest of scores, which Smith duly converted.
Up against it, the Chiefs quickly needed to find a response of sorts. A penalty drilled into the corner from Harvey Skinner gave them A1 position from which to attack, but when the resultant line-out was picked out of the air, Harlequins had the chance to clear their lines.
Under pressure, though, it was Sam Skinner’s outstretched frame which got to Care’s intended box kick - and it was the Scottish international who reacted quickly, diving onto the loose ball, before being swamped by a plethora of delighted team-mates.
It was just what the Chiefs needed, but with half-time all but upon us, the hosts were pinged for holding on in the tackle, gifting Smith the chance to extend his side’s lead at the turn.
HALF TIME EXETER CHIEFS 5 HARLEQUINS 18
Pellow had a job to do during the interval to get his side back up and running, but whatever the Cornishman had to say, it clearly had the desired effect as the Chiefs came out firing on the resumption.
Not only did they appear to have a greater gusto in their overall appearance, but their carries and their forward momentum appeared much improved on that which they had displayed during the first period. Tom Hendrickson and the impressive Tom Wyatt were both making decent inroads from the backline, before the forwards took up the challenge of pounding away at the Quins’ line.
Wave after wave of close-range attacks went in from the Chiefs, before the towering frame of Price somehow worked his way over for his maiden score, which was duly converted by the right boot of Harvey Skinner.
Now, back within six points, the Devonians suddenly had the bit between their teeth. From here, many inside Sandy Park were expecting the Chiefs to not only kick on, but haul in the slender deficit.
Sadly, it was not to be. Instead, it was Harlequins who flexed their muscles to deadly effect. Young grabbed their third converted try on 53 minutes, powering over from just a few metres out after the Chiefs had done their utmost to hold their rivals at bay for a sustained period.
It was an untimely blow for the Chiefs to soak up, but as they reeled on the ropes, they were eventually floored by a near flawless last quarter from Paul Gustard’s men. Four tries in a 12 minute spell not only ended the contest as a spectacle, but it inflicted the most points conceded by an Exeter side on home soil for three years.
Dombrandt cruised over for the first, finishing off good work from replacement Kunatani and then Chisholm, before Ibitoye got his name on the scoresheet once more, this time taking the aerial route to dive over in the left corner after a bulldozing charge from USA international Paul Lasike had ripped opened up the Exeter defence.
Spectators from all corners of the ground started to make their way for the exits, no doubt keen to get settled in for England’s Six Nations opener against France in Paris. However, the visitors had far from finished, adding two more tries through Chisholm and Smith, both of whom can thanks the dazzling exploits of man-of-the-match Ibitoye for their efforts.
In between, Short gave home fans a brief moment to cheer about, collecting a looped pass from replacement Sam Morley to score in the corner. However, it was all a little too late by then to make any real difference.
To their credit, the Chiefs valiantly kept battling to the end, their efforts rewarded with a second try for Price with the final play of the game. By then, Harlequins were already in celebratory mood, casting their minds to the future where either Sale Sharks or Saracens will await in next month’s Cup Final.
Chiefs: P Dollman; M Bodilly, T Wyatt, T Hendrickson. J Short; H Skinner, S Townsend (J Maunder 54); B Keast (D Southworth 65), J Poole (K Cooper 54), M Street (P Schickerling 51); W Witty (S South 62), T Price; S Lonsdale (J Caulfield 62), D Armand, S Skinner (capt).
Tries - S Skinner, Short, Price (2); Conversion - H Skinner
Harlequins: A Morris (S Kunatani 44); C Murley (R Chisholm 3), T Penny (B Herron 18), P Lasike, G Ibitoye; M Smith, D Care (M Landajo 65); S Garcia Botta (M Lambert 48), J Musk (S Riley 73), W Collier (S Kerrod 48); G Young, M Symons (T Cavubati 65); J Chisholm (caps), W Evans, A Dombrandt.
Tries - Dombrandt (2), Ibitoye (2), Young, R Chisholm, Smith; Conversions - Smith (4); Penalties - Smith (2)
Referee: A Woodthorpe