Chiefs 23 Gloucester 6
Exeter Chiefs 23
Mark Stevens at Sandy Park
In Part One of the Exeter Chiefs/Gloucester trilogy, it was Rob Baxter's table-toppers that landed the first telling blow.
Devon's finest made it 'eight from eight' in this season's Gallagher Premiership with a display that showed glimpes of sheer brilliance in attack but, more importantly, real determination and desire in defence.
Despite falling behind to two early penalties from Gloucester fly-half Danny Cipriani, the Chiefs recovered sufficiently to lead 10-6 at the break thanks to a converted try from Nic White and a penalty from Gareth Steenson.
Alex Cuthbert's converted score early in the second half, plus two more Steenson penalties, merely ensured the points for the Chiefs.
Having maintained their perfect record courtesy of a last-gasp victory at Bristol the week previous, Baxter stuck with the majority of those on duty at Ashton Gate. There were changes, though, two of them in the pack where Dave Dennis and Dave Ewers were added, while behind scrum-half White was the sole adjustment to the back division.
Gloucester, meanwhile, fresh from their own impressive home win over Leicester Tigers made five changes in personnel as Val Rapava-Ruskin. And Henry Walker were added to their front-row; Ben Morgan came in for Jaco Kriel; while behind Henry Trinder returned in the midfield and Charlie Sharples was added to the wing.
With everyone accounted for on a dull and damp afternoon in deepest Devon, it was the visitors who started the brighter, taking the lead inside four minutes when Cipriani slotted them in front with a penalty after the hosts had been pinged for not rolling away at a ruck.
It was a lead Gloucester would double not long after through Cipriani once more. The summer signing from Wasps sent up a high bomb as he looked to clear out of defence, but when Chiefs winger Alex Cuthbert spilled possession, team-mate Ollie Devoto was caught offside as he looked to lap up the loose ball.
Worse could have followed for the hosts as Cipriani spurned the chance to land a third kick on 17 minutes, this time drilling his penalty from wide on the left touchline wide of the mark.
The Chiefs made the most of the let-off and slowly started to work their way into the game. Asking their pack to carry out the donkey work with some direct and hard running through the middle, pressure finally told on the Cherry & Whites when Walker was adjudged not to have released a Chief right in front of the posts.
Steenson, who has bagged over 100 league points against Gloucester over the years, needed no second invitation to slot his side’s first points of the afternoon with a routine kick.
Up and running at last, it would be the Chiefs who would finish the first period the stronger. More heavyweight thrust the middle provided the launchpad to get the hosts in prime position, but the Gloucester defence was holding firm as pressure began to mount.
With six minutes of the half remaining, it was Baxter’s side who grabbed the game’s opening try. Having gleaned a penalty, the ‘Men in Black’ used the advantage to work the ball out to Steenson. The Irishman looked up, saw a huge gap on the opposite wing, before delivering a sublime cross-field kick to the onrushing Cordero.
Still with work to do, the Argentinian international collected the ball, set off on a dart for the line, before slipping the simplest of offloads to White, who was able to slide in by the posts for the score which Steenson landed to ensure maximum reward.
HALF TIME EXETER CHIEFS 10 GLOUCESTER RUGBY 6
Not a lot to choose between either side during a fiercely-contested first period, it took just three minutes after the restart for the Chiefs to make their mark once more.
This latest score, however, was spoon-fed to the league leaders. With Gloucester making decent headway through the middle, the visitors decide to go wide through Twelvetrees and Cipriani. Sadly for them, the latter didn’t see British Lion Cuthbert lurking in centre field.
In a flash, Exeter's summer signing swooped like a predatory beast, picking off the pace and setting off on a foot race to the line from deep inside his own half. Although Gloucester full-back Jason Woodward did his best to try and cut off the Chiefs speedster, his attempted tap tackle was all in vain and the Welsh international was able to creep his way over for his second try of the season.
Steenson - as he did in the first period - ensured all seven points with the conversion, before slotting a penalty not long after when Sharples was penalised for holding on in the tackle after determined work at the breakdown from Aussie internationals Greg Holmes and White, as well as the impressive Kvesic against his former club.
Two converted scores clear, the Chiefs were comfortable to soak up whatever Gloucester threw at them. The visitors made a wrath of changes in a bid to ignite their charge, but the fresh muscle made little difference as the Chiefs then countered with their own investment of new talent from the sidelines.
Young props Billy Keast and Marcus Street were again afforded their chance on the big stage - and both again impressed as they helped to add some real solidity to the Exeter scrum in the final quarter.
They were joined in the front-row by Tongan international Elvis Taione who, with six minutes remaining, was closing in on adding a third try. The hooker emerged from a ruck deep inside the Gloucester 22 with ball in hand, but as he closed in on landing the all-important touchdown, he was engulfed by the out-stretched frame of Jason Woodward who did just about enough to cling onto the marauding hooker.
The Chiefs, however, had the hammer down and although they did their best to bulldoze their way to a third score, in the end they had to just satisfy themselves with a third Steenson penalty when Gloucester were picked up for three different infringements just five metres out.
Victory assured, all that was left for the Chiefs to do was to manfully see out the remaining two minutes. This they did with consumate ease, knowing they will face familiar foes again here in two weeks, this time in the first of back-to-back Champions Cup fixtures.
Chiefs: P Dollman (J Simmonds 74); S Cordero, I Whitten, O Devoto (S Hill 71), A Cuthbert; G Steenson, N White (J Maunder 66); M Low (B Keast 61), J Yeandle (capt, E Taione 66), G Holmes (M Street 66); M Lees, D Dennis (W Van der Sluys 58); D Ewers, D Armand (T Lawday 6-13), M Kvesic (T Lawday 66).
Tries - White, Cuthbert; Conversions - Steenson (2); Penalties - Steenson (3)
Gloucester: J Woodward; C Sharples (T Hudson 74), H Trinder, B Twelvetrees, O Thorley; D Cipriani (O Williams 51), W Heinz (C Braley 66); V Rapava-Ruskin (K Traynor 51), H Walker (J Visagie 51), F Balmain (J Hohneck 51); T Savage (G Grobler 60), E Slater (capt); F Clarke, G Evans, B Morgan (A Hinkley 74).
Penalties - Cipriani (2)
Referee: M O’Grady