Forward power too much for Irish
By Mark Stevens
Rob Hunter praised the professionalism of the Exeter Chiefs squad as they secured themselves home advantage in this season’s Aviva Premiership play-offs with a handsome 45-5 victory at London Irish.
The defending champions were at their ruthless best at the Madejski Stadium, running in six tries and claiming all five points to ensure they remain in pole position of the Premiership with just two rounds of the scheduled season remaining.
England international Sam Simmonds led the way for the visitors by claiming a hat-trick of tries, while fellow forwards Ben Moon, Mitch Lees and Jack Yeandle helped to seal the success, which was duly rubber-stamped with a further 15 points from the boot of fly-half Gareth Steenson.
Home winger Joe Cokanasiga claimed a second half consolation for the Exiles, but their hopes of staying in the top flight hang by a thread as they are some nine points adrift of next-best Worcester Warriors with just two games of the season remaining.
Post-match, a happy Hunter highlighted the effort and skill shown by the Devonians in what could easily have been a potential banana skin of a fixture for them.
“We’re very happy [with the win],” said Hunter. “Irish have been starting games well in recent weeks, so we targeted a fast start to make sure that didn’t come in to play today. Also, it showed that although we’ve qualified for the top four last week, that’s not the end of it as far as we’re concerned. It would have been very easy to take our foot off the pedal, but we didn’t.
“We had a fast start ourselves, we stay disciplined throughout and the way the forwards trundled around in the rain, the way we kicked and the way we defended, it was all really pleasing.”
With Sale Sharks to play at Sandy Park in two weeks time, followed by a last-day trip to Harlequins, Hunter insists the mission for the Chiefs is to not only top the league come the end of the regular season for the first time, but also build some significant momentum ahead of their last four showdown.
“If you look at the last couple of years, we’ve always targeted trying to take momentum into these last couple of games,” added Hunter. “There is no point trying to manage your way through things once you’ve qualified, you’d much rather be going into everything flat out. That will be the aim against Sale and it will be the same when we play Harlequins, what happens after that we’ll worry about at that time.”
As the man who oversees the relentless, juggernaut Chiefs pack, Hunter will no doubt have been brimming with pride at the way his on-field pack again went about their business. Simmonds - as he has been for much of this season - was sensational, but equally there were numerous others who shined in a very dominant display from the champions.
“We are very effective when we get into that position close to the line,” said Hunter, when asked about the conversion rate of his side when just five metres out. “Having guys like Sam and Thomas Waldrom who can help bang in a score if necessary, it’s good to have that within your side. It was fantastic to see Sam score his tries today. He’s quick, he’s elusive, and he showed that with his finishes.
“Yes, it’s been a good day to be the forwards coach, but a lot of hard work goes in to put us in those positions, so it was a decent all-round effort.”
Hunter also allayed any major fears over the condition of Don Armand and Harry Williams, both of whom had to come off in the second period with injuries. Armand sustained a bang to his hip, while Williams had to undergo a HIA assessment.