Chiefs 5 Warriors 6
Exeter Chiefs 5
Worcester Warriors 6
Mark Stevens at Sandy Park
A bit like London buses, nothing for ages, then all of a sudden you get a flurry.
Well, it’s the same for Worcester Warriors, who having seen off Exeter Chiefs in the Anglo-Welsh Cup last month, then repeated the dose by becoming the first side to win an Aviva Premiership game at Sandy Park since Bath prospered back in October 2016.
Not since the Chiefs were elevated into English rugby’s top tier back in 2010 have Worcester tasted a league victory against Rob Baxter’s side - whilst you have to go all the way back to 2004, the days of the old County Ground, to note their last success on Devon soil.
This triumph, however, was a deserved victory for the Warriors, who not only gave every ounce of energy they possessed, but did enough in defence to throw a spanner into the works of the normally reliable Chiefs machine.
Chris Pennell struck two successful first half penalties to seal their fourth victory of the campaign, whilst all the Chiefs could muster in terms of a response was a solitary score from lock Mitch Lees after the break.
Back in Premiership action for the first time in a month, Baxter paraded a powerful looking line-up for the visit of the Midlanders. Having rested many of his frontline stars over the past fortnight, they all returned to the fray as the champions looked to preserve their position at the top of the table.
Argentinian newcomer Santiago Cordero was handed his Premiership debut on the right wing for the hosts, while on the bench there was a first-ever inclusion in top flight action for academy prop Marcus Street.
The visitors, meanwhile, were shy of leading try-scorer Josh Adams and centre Ben Te’o, but they still had plenty of experiences within their ranks, led by skipper Donncha O’Callaghan, Springbok Francois Hougaard and full-back Chris Pennell.
With conditions sticky underfoot and rather gloomy overhead, it was the Chiefs who were up against the strong breeze in the opening half. The initial skirmishes offered little in terms of excitement, not damage to the scoreboard, as the battle for territory and possession meant it was more of an arm wrestle, rather than a compelling rugby match.
As it was the first quarter came and went without incident, but shortly after it was the visitors who edged in front when Pennell landed a lengthy penalty after the home side were penalised for infringing at a ruck.
Moments later and the Warriors threatened again, Pennell this time picking up on a loose pass from Steenson, before haring down field at a rate of knots. Although Cordero was across to cover the full-back’s threat, his pass inside caused further issues before Lachie Turner stepped in to repel the attack.
Threat averted, slowly the Chiefs began to find their feet. Indeed, as the half drew towards a close, so the home side looked to fashion their best moments of the first half. Winger Olly Woodburn went close with a powerful raid down the left flank, but as the support came in to assist him, so the Warriors were able to scramble sufficiently to hold their rivals at bay.
It would be Exeter’s best opportunity of the first 40 minutes, but it was the Warriors who extended their lead just before the interval when Pennell landed another lengthy penalty after home lock Jonny Hill was penalised for a late tackle.
HALF TIME EXETER CHIEFS 0 WORCESTER WARRIORS 6
Having found the target twice during the first half, Pennell was looking to make it a hat-trick of successful penalties soon after the restart after the Chiefs again fell foul of referee Andrew Jackson.This time, though, the England international saw his effort from just outside the home 22 screw wide of the left post, much to the relief of many inside Sandy Park.
It was a let-off for Baxter’s side, who were clearly struggling to make their mark on proceedings.The hulking frame of Dave Ewers was doing his best to inject some life into the home charge, twice carrying hard at the Worcester line, but the raids came to nothing as the visitors soaked up the pressure with relative ease.
The Chiefs continued to press forward and when Waldrom picked a lovely line in midfield, the free-scoring No.8 steamed through the middle to put his side firmly on the front foot, but as the ball was spun wide through the hands of Jonny Hill and Lees, the visitors again did enough to hold the Devonians at bay.
The pressure was mounting and having seen one five-metre line-out illegally halted by Worcester replacement Ryan Bower, the Chiefs made no mistake when given a second chance. Jonny Hill took the set-piece, the forwards drove onwards, and from just a yard or two out, Lees powered his way over for the opening try.Steenson’s testing conversion, however, cannoned back off the right post to leave the hosts still a point behind.
Worcester’s game plan continued to be simple, yet effective, and their disruption work around the breakdown continued to cause no end of issues for the Chiefs who, it has to be said, were struggling to shift out of second gear.
As the game entered into the final quarter, so it was the Warriors who continued to play the role of party poopers. Centre Ryan Mills saw a speculative, long-range drop-goal fire wide of the mark, while only a poor pass from Bryce Heem denied GJ Van Velze from making significant inroads into the home 22.
With the Chiefs getting more and more frustrated by the minute, so the Warriors lived off the energy they were creating in defence. It was a point underlined when scrum-half Will Chudley sniped off a scrum, only to be turned over when the chasing calvary failed to get their in time.
It would get no better for the hosts, who having engaged in a territorial kicking battle, they spurned another decent opportunity when they failed to find their man from a penalty line-out. The audible groan around all four corners of the stadium summed up the ever-increasing frustrations.
Worcester, though, were thriving in the environment and with time up on the clock, the Chiefs have one final opportunity to snatch victory at the death. Although the home side huffed and puffed, working their way through countless phases, in the end it all came to nothing as they spilt possession, gifting the Warriors a priceless victory.
Chiefs: L Turner; S Cordero (O Devoto 58), I Whitten, S Hill, O Woodburn; G Steenson (capt), N White (W Chudley 63); B Moon (M Low 73), L Cowan-Dickie (S Malton 69), G Holmes (M Street 66); M Lees, J Hill; D Ewers (M Kvesic 58), D Armand, T Waldrom. Replacements (not used): T Salmon, J Simmonds.
Try - Lees
Warriors: C Pennell; B Heem, J Willison, R Mills, D Hammond; J Shillcock, F Hougaard; E Waller (R Bower 54), J Singleton, N Schonert (G Milasinovich 57); D O’Callaghan (capt, A Bresler 40), D Barry; A Faosiliva (M Cox 62), S Lewis (M Williams 70), GJ van Velze. Replacements (not used): K Haupt, M Cox, L Baldwin, T Howe
Penalties - Pennell (2)
Referee: A Jackson