Chiefs 34 Glasgow 18
Exeter Chiefs 34
Glasgow Warriors 18
Mark Stevens at Sandy Park
Exeter Chiefs have only ever once made it to the latter stages of the Heineken Champions Cup - that was back in 2016, when they undone at the death by Wasps at the quarter-final stage.
In other years, Rob Baxter’s side have produced some stellar performance in Europe’s top club competition, but too often they have guilty of not backing things up at the key moments.
It’s something which has puzzled many, including Baxter himself, given the domestic dominance the Chiefs have shown in the Gallagher Premiership for a handful of years now.
However, ahead of this latest Champions Cup season, the Chiefs Director of Rugby said it was time his team finally made a statement of intent. Well, if the opening two rounds of battle are anything to go by, then his players have clearly heeded his words.
A week after downing French hosts La Rochelle on their own turf for the first time this season, the Chiefs followed it up with an equally impressive display against visiting Glasgow Warriors.
The Scotsmen were worthy opponents for 40 minutes at Sandy Park, even leading 13-10 at the break thanks to a converted Nick Grigg try and two penalties from Adam Hastings. However, once push came to shove after the break, it was the Chiefs who steamrollered their way to another five-point haul.
Tries from Jonny Hill, Henry Slade, Sam Simmonds and Tom O’Flaherty led the charge, whilst Joe Simmonds was again imperious with the boot, slotting an unblemished 14 points.
The Warriors countered with a late try from replacement Gordon Turner, but by then the contest was already done and dusted and the Chiefs were looking ahead to next week’s league visit of Wasps.
Having got their latest European campaign off to the perfect start in La Rochelle seven days earlier, it was little surprise that Baxter stuck with a virtually unchanged squad. The sole change in the starting line-up saw Jack Nowell come in for his first start of the season in place of Alex Cuthbert, while Nowell’s elevation meant a recall to the squad for Sam Hill.
Like the Chiefs, Glasgow also got their Champions Cup campaign off on a winning note, defeating visiting Sale Sharks 13-7 at Scotstoun. They too saw little reason to tinker too much with their winning formula, other than an enforced change in the back-row where the injured Callum Gibbins was replaced by Chris Fusaro.
With the heavy rain that has persisted around the Westcountry for much of the week have ceased in time for kick-off, it was the visitors who started the brighter. Dave Rennie’s side bossed the opening four minutes, starving the Chiefs of possession.
Sam Johnson’s break caused early concern for the Chiefs, as did a scrum penalty just five metres from their own line after Alec Hepburn had been penalised for hinging at the set-piece. On both occasions, though, the Chiefs stood firm, eventually winning a turnover penalty of their own through good work from Dave Dennis and Dave Ewers.
Undeterred, Glasgow continued to pile forward and they were eventually rewarded on nine minutes. Making the most of a forward pass from former Warrior Hogg, they went inside through Hastings to Tommy Seymour, the latter of whom fed Grigg on the burst. The centre tore through the middle and although the home defenders did the best to thwart his charge, his momentum was sufficient enough to propel him over the line for the try, converted by Hastings.
It was no more than the visitors deserved during a dominant opening, but slowly the Chiefs started to find their attacking rhythm. Fly-half Simmonds reduced the arrears with a routine penalty after the Warriors were penalised at scrum time, after which Sam Simmonds and Nic White combined well, only for the former to knock-on just metres from the Glasgow try-line.
The Chiefs, though, had the bit between their teeth and having won another crucial penalty at scrum time, a sublime touch finder from Henry Slade positioned the home side just five metres out.
Opting to go short of the resultant line-out, Ewers was held short after which Glasgow skipper Ryan Wilson was singled out for a high tackle in the ensuing play. Rather than opt for another set-piece, the Chiefs bravely went for the tap penalty, the fruits of which saw them drive forward twice, before Jonny Hill shunted back on the blindside to drive over for the score, converted by Simmonds.
With little to choose between either side during a full-blooded first half, it was the visitors who finished the stronger. Hastings levelled things up with a penalty after French referee Pascal Gauzere adjudged Hepburn to have dropped a scrum - and the Scottish international repeated the feat with another successful kick with the last action of the half to give the Warriors a slender lead at the turn.
HALF TIME EXETER CHIEFS 10 GLASGOW WARRIORS 13
The interval allowed Baxter to regroup his players and they got the second period off to a flying start. Having won turnover possession off the kick-off, the Chiefs appeared to be going nowhere, until the ball found its way to Nowell.
With little space to work in, the England and British Lions star used some nifty footwork, before stepping inside two defenders to release Slade, who was able to coast over by the posts despite the best attempts of winger DTH van Der Merwe to try and tap tackle at the death.
Simmonds continued his unblemished kicking stats for the season, landing the extras to Slade’s score, before then adding to his tally with a sublime kick from the left touchline to a score from his older brother, Sam.
The free-scoring No.8 was able to add to power his way over from a well-drilled line-out move, after Warriors scrum-half George Horne had needlessly strayed offside in midfield just moments earlier.
Now 11 points ahead, the Chiefs went in search of the all-important fourth try.
Their wait was not long. Nowell instigated the move fielding possession wide on the right, before he fed inside through the hands of Joe Simmonds and Slade, whose clever grubber in behind set up a foot race to the try-line.
O’Flaherty needed no second invitation, turning on the after burners and winning the sprint race ahead of Hastings and Ali Price to score in the left-hand corner. Again, Simmonds’ metronomic boot did not disappoint, thundering over an even better kick to ensure another maximum haul.
It was ruthless stuff from the Chiefs, who despite having bagged all five points, refused to take their foot off the exposed Glasgow throat. Fresh muscle from the bench ensured there would be no respite as the game ticked into the final quarter of the game.
And the visitors didn’t help themselves late on, replacement McDonald sent to the sidelines for an unnecessary shoulder charge off the ball. His indiscretion not only left his team a man down, but it allowed Simmonds to stretch his kicking run into the mid-30s.
With little more than pride to fight for, the Warriors did their best to try and salvage something positive from their afternoon in Devon. And even though the Chiefs had Sam Simmonds sin-binned for persistent infringing, the home side were in no mood to cough up easy points.
A huge defensive set on 70 minutes not only drove the Warriors back at a rate of knots but, more importantly, they eventually won the turnover after Jack Maunder was hit with a late hit.
Using the penalty to position themselves down field, they tore down the left before it was worked back right to Nowell, who seemed destined to score in the corner, only for the ball to be knocked from his grasp just as he went to touchdown.
It was a let-off for the Warriors who, to their credit, kept going until the final whistle. Their brave endeavours were rewarded with a late score for Turner, but that was scant reward on a day when they felt the full force of the Chiefs.
Chiefs: S Hogg (S Hill 62); J Nowell, H Slade (G Steenson 69), I Whitten, T O’Flaherty; J Simmonds, N White (J Maunder 68); A Hepburn (B Moon 48), J Yeandle (capt, L Cowan-Dickie 39), H Williams (M Street 65); D Dennis (J Kirsten 63), J Hill; D Ewers, J Vermeulen (D Armand 65), S Simmonds.
Tries - J Hill, Slade, S Simmonds, O’Flaherty; Conversions - J Simmonds (4); Penalties - J Simmonds (2)
Yellow Card: S Simmonds
Warriors: T Seymour; R Tagive (K Steyn 31), N Grigg, S Johnson, DTH van der Merwe (P Horne 52); A Hastings, G Horne (A Price 58); O Keeble (A Allan 63), F Brown (G Turner 58), Z Fagerson (D Rae 66); R Harley, S Cummings; R Wilson (capt, K McDonald 66), C Fusaro (T Gordon 63), M Fagerson.
Try - Grigg; Conversion - Hastings; Penalties - Hastings (2)
Yellow Card: McDonald
Referee: P Gauzere