Chiefs 42 Warriors 0
Exeter Chiefs 42
Glasgow Warriors 0
Mark Stevens at Sandy Park
Supporters returned to Sandy Park for the first time in nine months, but it was like they had never been away as Exeter Chiefs kicked off the defence of their Heineken Champions Cup crown in emphatic fashion.
The global pandemic meant last season’s double-winning heroics had to be celebrated from at home. Here, at the first opportunity, Rob Baxter’s side were given the ultimate seal of approval by 2,000 die-hards as they swept aside visiting Glasgow Warriors with a six-try success.
Having kicked their Gallagher Premiership defence off with a flawless opening three games, Devon’s finest maintained the winning streak that underlined their Champions tag.
First half tries from the free-scoring Sam Simmonds and Jonny Gray gave the hosts a 14-0 advantage, which they extended with further efforts after the break for Stuart Hogg, Jack Yeandle, Olly Woodburn and Jonny Hill.
Fly-half Joe Simmonds banged over the extras to all six tries to complete the job and leave the beleaguered Scotsmen searching for answers, this despite them welcoming back a hearty contingent of players from international duty.
Like the Warriors, Baxter’s side entered into their other title defence, buoyed by their ever-growing international contingent, who have been away on Autumn Nations Cup duty.
Former Warriors Gray and Hogg were both re-instated to the Chiefs starting XV at the earliest opportunity, as were club-mates Sam Skinner and Henry Slade. The other changes saw Alec Hepburn, Jack Maunder and Woodburn also back in harness from the outset.
With a howling wind at their backs first up, it was the Warriors who were afforded the game’s first chance. Just two minutes had elapsed when the visitors had edged a meaty first scrum to win a penalty just inside the Exeter half.
Sensing it was a chance to strike an early blow, Glasgow fly-half Pete Horne opted for a shot at goal. His subsequent kick had the legs – and a bit more – but the accuracy was wayward, his kicking sailing wide of the left post.
Little did they know, that would be the closest the Warriors would get all game to inflicting any kind of damage on the reigning champions. Instead, it was the Chiefs who dominated in every facet of play from there on in.
Home skipper Jack Yeandle was adjudged held up on the line on 13 minutes by French referee Mathieu Raynal but, a minute later, there was no stopping the Chiefs as a clever line-out at the front saw Yeandle find Dave Ewers, who called in the cavalry around him to propel Sam Simmonds over for his seventh try in just four games of the new season.
The No.8’s score was rightfully acclaimed by the socially-distanced few who, it has to be said, have longed to get back in their ‘Happy Place’.
The match-day buzz had never felt so good, but the Chiefs were far from finished. Keen to ensure their adoring public were given a performance befitting of Champions, Baxter’s side continued to dominate proceedings as the half ticked by.
Handed the chance to position themselves back in enemy territory, the Chiefs looked to score again from another five-metre line-out. The Warriors survived on this occasion, but when the Exeter eight rumbled into life again just moments later, a series of infringements by the visitors gifted the hosts a second score.
Gray, up against his former club, bulldozed his way over for a first-ever Exeter score on 24 minutes, finishing off solid approach work from his fellow forwards, most notably the industrious duo of Ewers and Jannes Kirsten.
Glasgow centre Sam Johnson saw yellow for persistent infringing in the build-up to that score, but even with a man advantage, the Chiefs could not add to their tally, despite numerous attacking threats before the interval.
HALF TIME EXETER CHIEFS 14 GLASGOW WARRIORS 0
In truth, the Warriors would have been happy to go in at the turn just two scores adrift, considering the dominance of the Chiefs in that first period.
However, it took just two minutes of the second half for the Chiefs to click back into scoring gear, Hogg adding the home side’s third when he applied the simplest of finishes to a slick backs move instigated in the main by the craft and guile of Slade and Woodburn.
Joe Simmonds, as he does often these days, obliged with a stunning touchline conversion, before administering further rites on the Warriors, who leaked a bonus point score on 54 minutes when Yeandle capitalised on a loose line-out to burrow over for a simple score.
It kind of summed up Glasgow’s doom and gloom, having initially done well to prevent the Chiefs from finding their way over from two close-range, catch-and-drive moves.
With victory and the five points already safely assured, the question now was could the Chiefs not only add to their tally but, more importantly, keep their rivals at bay.
In this season’s new-look Champions Cup format, victories of any kind are going to be priceless. However, if you can bolster a healthy points difference at the same time, then that will be the icing on the cake.
As conditions worsened overhead – and the pitch began to cut up – so it was left to the Chiefs to inflict further pain on the already exposed Glasgow jugular.
Woodburn capped a fine return to action by adding a fifth try, the winger latching onto a brilliant grubber kick in behind from Ollie Devoto, after the Chiefs had brilliantly turned over Glasgow possession just moments earlier.
Then, with the game into its final minute, newly-capped England international Hill got in on the scoring act, driving himself over from close range after the hosts had again scythed through the heart of the Glasgow midfield with some razor-sharp attacking play. Simmonds added a sixth conversion to maintain his 100% kicking record.
For the Chiefs, it was the perfect outcome on a day when not only did they start with a bang, but they rewarded their loyal supporters with an on-field performance that was again award-winning.
A post-game (half) lap of honour not only allowed Baxter’s side to soak up the acclaim of their adoring faithful for last season – and today as well – but it reminded their European rivals that they aren’t going to surrender their crown without an almighty fight!
Exeter Chiefs: S Hogg (H Skinner 68); O Woodburn, H Slade (I Whitten 61), O Devoto, T O’Flaherty; J Simmonds, J Maunder (S Hidalgo-Clyne 55); A Hepburn (B Moon 57), J Yeandle (capt, L Cowan-Dickie 57), H Williams (M Street 57); J Gray, S Skinner (J Hill 61); D Ewers (R Capstick 68), J Kirsten, S Simmonds.
Tries – S Simmonds, Gray, Hogg, Yeandle, Woodburn, Hill; Conversions – J Simmonds (6)
Glasgow Warriors: G Bryce; T Seymour (L Jones 76), N Grigg, S Johnson, L Jones (H Jones 56); P Horne (B Thomson 36), A Price (J Dobie 61); O Kebble (A Seiuli 56), G Turner (G Stewart 38), Z Fagerson (E Pieretto 68); R Harley (H Bain 76), S Cummings; K McDonald, M Fagerson, R Wilson (capt, TJ Ioane 65).
Yellow Card: Johnson
Referee: M Raynal