Chiefs 38 Blues 10
Exeter Chiefs 31
Cardiff Blues 10
Mark Stevens at Sandy Park
Rob Baxter hailed his Exeter Chiefs side as they produced a powerful display to sink European Challenge Cup holders Cardiff Blues in their latest pre-season test at Sandy Park.
Tries from Sam Simmonds, Matt Kvesic, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ian Whitten and a Penalty Try were the highlights for the Devonians, whose remaining points came courtesy of fly-half Gareth Steenson.
The Blues, who lead early through a converted Steve Shingler try, played their part in a hard-fought encounter, but when push came to shove they had no answer to the power game of their hosts.
With the Chiefs in action for the second time in 24 hours - the other side lost 29-21 at Cornish Pirates - it was a much different line-up that Rob Baxter paraded for Exeter’s latest pre-season fixture on home soil.
Club captain Jack Yeandle headed up a powerful home team, which included four players (Don Armand, Sam Simmonds, Nic White and Olly Woodburn) who started last May’s Premiership final against Saracens at Twickenham.
The Blues, meanwhile, made 14 changes in personnel to their side which suffered a last-gasp 17-15 defeat to Leicester Tigers just seven days earlier. The only man to keep his place from the outset was captain Olly Robinson, who packed down in the visiting back-row alongside Josh Turnbull and Seb Davies.
And it was Robinson, the son of former Bath and England coach Andy Robinson, who helped to prevent the home side from taking an early lead. Slick handling from the Chiefs cut the visitors to shreds, creating an opening for Ollie Devoto to strike from close range. Sadly, the centre couldn’t handle onto the fizzing ball and the chance was spurned right on the try-line.
It was an early let-off for the Blues, but they recovered well and having threatened when Shingler almost set up Lloyd Williams, the former made no mistake on 11 minutes when he was able to coast over for the game’s first points, finishing off a pop inside from Turnbull for a try, which was converted by Jarrod Evans.
Cardiff’s lead would prove short-lived as the Chiefs levelled things up within minutes with one of their signature moves. Having earned a penalty deep inside the Blues’ 22, Steenson fired into the corner, setting up the now notorious five-metre line-out.
The home side’s first attempt for the line was thwarted illegally by the Welshmen, but when they tried for a second time, Exeter’s eight combined as one to create the opening for England international Simmonds to steal over from close range.
Steenson obliged with a testing conversion from wide on the left before firing his side in front on 28 minutes with a penalty after the visitors had been penalised by referee Tom Foley for dropping a scrum midway inside their own 22.
The Blues did their best to hit back straight away with a smart counter-attack led by Aled Summerhill, but some outstanding turnover work from Matt Kvesic not only denied the Cardiff winger, but also earned his side a key penalty that allowed them to clear their lines.
However, as the half drew to a close it was the Chiefs who were back on the attack. A series of raids got them decent territory, before they forced a scrum just yards from the visiting try-line. A succession of scrums ensued, but referee Foley grew tired of Cardiff’s infringing and when the hosts shunted once more, the Blues collapsed and the official headed straight under the posts for a penalty try.
HALF TIME EXETER CHIEFS 17 CARDIFF BLUES 7
The Chiefs - who introduced Alec Hepburn for Greg Holmes during the interval - were first to show on the resumption as they set about adding to their tally. Twice they made decent inroads only for Ollie Atkins, then Hepburn, to knock-on in quick succession.
Both sides continued to slug it out during an uninspiring third quarter, the only highlight of note coming when Evans reduced the arrears with a penalty after the Chiefs had failed to roll away from the tackle.
At the other end, the Chiefs quickly got back into their stride and following some hefty carries from Hepburn, Atkins and Phil Dollman, the hosts fashioned the opening through White and Don Armand that allowed Kvesic to plough over from eight metres out for a second try, which was again converted by Steenson.
Two scores clear, that soon became three when Cowan-Dickie got himself on the scoresheet, the England hooker peeling round off his own line-out throw to provide the slick finish to another well-oiled drive from the home pack.
Steenson, as so often he has proved over the years, guided another pin-point conversion between the sticks at the North End to stretch his side's lead to 31-10.
Cardiff - to their credit - did their best to try and haul themselves back into the contest, but the Chiefs defensive line, now being orchestrated by former player Julian Salvi, was in no mood to surrender easy points. Indeed, the desire shown was epitomised by Kvesic, who refused to give up the chase in the pursuit of Blues replacement Tom Williams.
Having given the Welshman a 10m head start, not only did he haul him down in the ensuing sprint, but he was quickly got to his feet to win a turnover penalty. Quite rightly, the home faithful roared with approval, and it set the benchmark for a dogged last quarter from the home side who added a fourth try through Whitten.
The Irishman was able to pick off a Cardiff pass on halfway before racing clear of the cover to score under the posts. Compatriot Steenson obliged with the additional two points to ensure he finished with another faultless display from his trusty right boot.
With time all but up and the Chiefs have given first team run-outs to Academy rookies Sean Lonsdale, Flynn Elworthy, Barry Karea, Carl Morgan, Sam Maunder and Corey Teague, the hosts again dug deep to hold at bay their rivals who looked to grab a late consolation score.
The fact Cardiff could find no way through underlined their desire shown by the Chiefs, who will now wrap up their pre-season programme with a trip to Cork next Friday where European rivals Munster lie in wait.
Exeter Chiefs: P Dollman; T O'Flaherty, I Whitten, O Devoto (C Morgan 72), O Woodburn (B Karea 68); G Steenson, N White (S Maunder 74); G Holmes (A Hepburn h/t), J Yeandle (capt, L Cowan-Dickie 50), H Williams (T Francis 50); O Atkins, S Skinner (C Teague 77), D Armand (S Lonsdale 38-40, 60), M Kvesic (P Davis 74), S Simmonds (F Elworthy 68). Replacements (not used): J Snow, J Elderkin
Tries - S Simmonds, Penalty Try, Kvesic, Cowan-Dickie, Whitten; Conversions - Steenson (4), Penalty Try; Penalty - Steenson
Cardiff Blues: M Morgan; O Lane (T Williams 60), G Smith (J Harries 60), S Shingler (W Halaholo 31), A Summerhill (T James 61); J Evans (H Millard 60), L Williams (L Jones 60); R Gill (C Domachowski 50), K Myhill (E Lewis h/t), D Arhip (D Lewis h/t, Arhip 78); G Earle (J Botham 50), R Thornton (J Down 65), J Turnbull, O Robinson (capt, A Lawrence 55), S Davies.
Try - Shingler; Conversion - Evans; Penalty - Evans
Referee: T Foley