Chiefs 26 Irish 3
Exeter Chiefs 26
London Irish 3
Mark Stevens at Sandy Park
Over the years Exeter Rugby Club have been renowned for having try-scoring No.8s.
In the past, you’ve had the likes of John Snell, John Scott, Bob Armstrong, Richard Baxter, plus the free-scoring Thomas Waldrom. However, none of them can touch the achievements of current incumbent, Sam Simmonds, whose latest brace took him to 11 for the season - and past Waldrom as the club’s record try-scorer in Premiership Rugby.
His latest double took him to 42 touchdowns in just 57 top-flight appearances and helped Rob Baxter’s side further cut the deficit on Gallagher Premiership leaders Bristol Bears to just a solitary point.
Securing their third league win on the bounce, last season’s champions were not only ruthless in attack, adding further tries through Dave Ewers and Alex Cuthbert, but restricted visitors London Irish to just a solitary Paddy Jackson penalty.
It was masterful stuff from the Devonians who, after what Baxter himself described as an ‘emotional wobble’ last month, have responded in kind with the kind of displays that are worthy of their double champions tag.
Fresh from wins on the road at Worcester and Newcastle, the Chiefs came into the latest match-up buoyed by the return from international duty of prop Harry Williams, whilst behind there were starts for both Tom Hendrickson and Josh Hodge.
Irish, meanwhile, unbeaten in their last five - and victorious on their last visit to Sandy Park - were in equally confident mood as they prepared to halt the recent charge of the Chiefs.
Exeter, though, started brightly and with a strong wind at their backs, it took just four minutes for them to make their mark. Strong carries from the home pack positioned themselves to within sniffing distance of the white line, before England international Simmonds bulldozed his way over from close range for the score, which younger sibling Joe converted to give the hosts a dream start.
Ten minutes later and the Chiefs were doubling their tally. Cuthbert caused the initial mayhem with a scything run through the heart of the Irish midfield. A slip saw his chance of scoring momentarily halted, but as the visitors did their best to scramble they were adjudged to have strayed offside, gifting Joe Simmonds the chance to plonk his side back to within five metres of their line.
From the resultant line-out, skipper Jack Yeandle found Sam Simmonds at the front, before his fellow forwards converged around him, propelling the hulking frame of Ewers over for the score, which was masterfully converted by Joe Simmonds.
The Chiefs were ruling the roost, not only looking mightily effective in attack, but denying Irish any crumb of comfort in attack. A high tackle on Hodge allowed the Chiefs to once more set up camp in the visitors’ 22, but this time the home side were unable to capitalise, knocking on just a few yards from the try-line.
Having soaked up some intense home pressure, Irish did at last start to find their rhythm in attack. A series of attacking raids got them on the front foot, before Jackson potted over a routine penalty after the Chiefs were adjudged to have not rolling away from the tackle area by referee Jack Makepeace.
Little did they know, this would be Irish’s only reward from the afternoon. However, as half time approached, the visitors - who were to lose playmaker Joe Simmonds to a nasty head blow - did well to repel the latest home advance, this time holding the Chiefs up from a close-range catch-and-drive.
HALF TIME EXETER CHIEFS 14 LONDON IRISH 3
Although up against the elements, the Chiefs once again started the half brightly, bagging a third score inside three minutes of the restart. Richard Capstick’s line-out take on the right flank was worked cleverly back inside by the Exeter back division to Cuthbert in the midfield.
Still with plenty to do, the Wales and British Lions flyer again underlined his world class talent, brushing aside the attentions of Theo Brophy-Clews in the centre, before galloping like a Cheltenham Festival winner to the winning line.Harvey Skinner - on as a replacement for Joe Simmonds - slotted the extras to ensure a third maximum haul for the Chiefs.
Now with the bonus point in their sights, the Chiefs continued to press forward in search of further reward. Tom O’Flaherty was an ever-willing runner, as were the midfield pairing of Ollie Devoto and Hendrickson, both of whom were making the hard yards with some heavyweight carries.
Irish, though, were proving stubborn in defence and having soaked up a series of Exeter attacking waves, it was their turn to try their luck at trying to reduce the scoreline. To their credit, they threw everything at the Chiefs, but they were getting nothing back in return.
It was summed up in one passage of play where, after countless phases, even Irish had run out of ideas, eventually flinging a loose pass which Sam Simmonds returned down field with a break-out that left a trail of Exiles defenders grasping at air.
Back down field where they wanted to be, the Chiefs continued to press for that all-important fourth try. Irish, however, were holding firm - that was until replacement Motu Matu’u hit Exeter replacement Ian Whitten with a high tackle.
Initially, play was allowed to carry on, but when TMO Geoff Warren asked Makepeace to review the footage, it was the Samoan hooker who was picked out by the official for the illegal act, the results of which ended up being a red card.
A groggy Whitten was helped off the field by the Exeter medical staff and replaced by Sean Lonsdale, whose first action was to claim the resultant line-out in the corner, which he duly fed to Simmonds, who was able to rumble over for the score.
Although Harvey Skinner couldn’t convert, the job had been done as far as the Chiefs had been concerned. They were cementing their place within the division’s top two and toasting a victory which, on this latest display, shows they have once again rediscovered their winning formula.
Chiefs: J Hodge; A Cuthbert (I Whitten 47, S Lonsdale 72), T Hendrickson, O Devoto, T O’Flaherty; J Simmonds (H Skinner 40), J Maunder (S Townsend 63); A Hepburn (J Kenny 73), J Yeandle (capt, J Innard 64), H Williams (M Street 70); W Witty (D Armand 52), S Skinner;D Ewers, R Capstick, S Simmonds.
Tries - S Simmonds (2), Ewers, Cuthbert; Conversions - J Simmonds (2), H Skinner
Irish: J Stokes (N Phipps 29); B Loader, C Rona (T Brophy-Clews 17), T Hepetema, O Hassell-Collins; P Jackson, B Meehan; W Goodrick-Clarke (A Dell 59), A Creevy (M Matu’u 59), L Chawatama (O Hoskins 59), S Mafi, R Simmons (G Nott 27); B Donnell (A Creevy 74), B Cowan (capt, M Rogerson 70), A Tuisue. Replacement (not used): J Cooke.
Penalty - Jackson
Red Card: Matu’u
Referee: J Makepeace