Gloucester 15 Chiefs 26
Exeter Chiefs 26
Mark Stevens at Kingsholm
They say ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’.
Stuart Hogg answered his recent critics with the perfect riposte, bagging his maiden try in the Gallagher Premiership as he helped Exeter Chiefs to a famous win at Gloucester.
The Scotsman, by his own admission, will say the opening weeks of the Six Nations haven’t quite gone to plan for him or his country. This evening, the gifted full-back was back to his dazzling best as the Chiefs extended their lead at the top of the table.
His second half score was certainly the pick of the night’s touchdowns, but it was the contributions of his Exeter team-mates which proved equally telling in this Round Ten encounter.
South African Jacques Vermeulen grabbed the visitors other try, whilst the metronomic boot of fly-half Gareth Steenson did the rest of the damage with another faultless display.
Gloucester offered some late resistance with tries from Jake Polledri and Louis Rees-Zammit, but it was scant reward on a night when they were dominated by their Devon visitors.
Returning to top-flight action for the first time in three weeks, Chiefs Director of Rugby, Rob Baxter, was buoyed by the return of several key names for their trip up the M5. International trio Hogg, Nic White and Harry Williams were all back in harness, as was Jannes Kirsten who replaced the injured Dave Dennis in the Exeter engine room.
Gloucester, meanwhile, also made four changes to their line-up from that which was undone by arch rivals Bristol Bears in their last Premiership outing. Twelvetrees, Danny Cipriani and Matt Banahan were all added to their back division, whilst the imposing frame of South African Gerbrandt Grobler was added to the home pack.
On a night when Storm Dennis was starting to show it’s ferocious presence, it was the home side who had first use of a strong tail wind. However, the Chiefs were happy to soak up Gloucester’s initial thrust, before then creating their own forward momentum.
Baxter’s side had only played ten minutes before they broke the game’s deadlock. Having worked their way through a series of phases, it was from a penalty kick to the corner that they were able to set-up their attacking platform.
The forwards worked the resultant set-piece back in field through their efficient pack, the fruits of which allowed South African flanker Vermeulen to burrow his way over for his fifth try of the season. Steenson - as he so often does - drilled the conversion over to ensure maximum reward for the Devonians.
It was the perfect start for the Chiefs, but almost straight from the restart they failed to deal with Cipriani’s kick, which allowed Gloucester to get quick, front foot ball. Roared on by the famous ’Shed Heads’ they literally threw everything at their rivals.
The Chiefs, to a man, were rock solid, producing a defensive wall that seemed almost impenetrable. Double tackles, linespeed and pure physicality, they had it all in abundance. They not only thumped their counterparts back at an alarming rate, but their discipline was also impressive, apart from when Ben Moon was penalised for sealing off at a ruck.
It allowed Billy Twelvetrees a shot at the target and the Gloucester made no mistake, dispatching his penalty between the posts.
With defences ruling the roost and the forwards engaging in a seemingly relentless arm wrestle up front, running rugby was somewhat at a premium for the remainder of the half.
Cipriani saw a pass picked off by Steenson, whose kick in behind created a mass scramble deep in the Gloucester 22. However, just as the Chiefs looked set to strike, Williams was adjudged to have entered from the side of a ruck and it allowed the hosts to clear their lines.
HALF TIME GLOUCESTER 3 EXETER CHIEFS 7
With little to choose between either side during a keenly-contested first 40 minutes, it was Gloucester who emerged quickest out fo the traps on the restart. Half-backs Callum Braley and Cipriani looked to instigate their initial thrust, but when Dave Ewers produced a monstrous turnover, winning his side a penalty, it kick-started the Chiefs second half charge.
Steenson landed the lengthy penalty on 48 minutes, after which he did similar with two more efforts in the space of four minutes. Failing to heed the warnings of referee Craig Maxwell-Keys, Gloucester committed on-field suicide with a string of needless offences.
The Irishman’s boot was proving lethal as the Chiefs marksman added a fourth penalty to stretch his side’s lead to 19-3 on the hour mark.
As the natives grew restless in the stands, step forward Hogg to rub salt into their now exposed wounds. Steenson fielded a clearance with ease before fizzing the ball back inside to the grasp of the Exeter No.15. In an instance he tore down the left hand side of the field, before offloading to Sam Simmonds in the wide channel.
Still with plenty to do, Simmonds turned on the after burners before drawing in the cover and shipping the ball back inside to Hogg, who left the onrushing Ben Morgan grasping air. Clutching the ball like it was his most prized possession, a grinning Hogg gleefully dotted down by the posts.
It was indeed a magic moment for the Exeter man!
Having seen enough, several of the Gloucester faithful headed for the exit doors. Sadly for them, they missed their side’s best acton of the night as they produced a strong final quarter to score two tries.
Italian international Polledri, not long on as a replacement, claimed their first from close range, quickly followed by Rees-Zammit, who somehow squeezed over in the right corner. The latter’s touchdown needed a succession of TV replays before it was confirmed, but it was only helping to gloss over the night’s gulf in class.
Gloucester did their best to rally for a third score late on, but the Chiefs were in no mood to surrender their line further. They happily soaked up the late pressure from the hosts, ensuring the hearty number in the Travelling Tribe headed home with a big grin on their faces.
Gloucester: M Banahan; L Rees-Zammit, C Harris (M Atkinson), B Twelvetrees, T Marshall; D Cipriani, J Simpson; V Rapava-Ruskin (J Hohneck), F Marais (T Gleave 61), F Balmain (C Knight 64); G Grobler (E Slater 61), F Mostert (capt); R Ackermann (F Clarke 61), L Ludlow (J Polledri 61), B Morgan.
Tries - Polledri, Rees-Zammit; Conversion - Twelvetrees; Penalty - Twelvetrees
Chiefs: S Hogg; T O’Flaherty, I Whitten, S Hill (P Dollman 66), O Woodburn; G Steenson (capt), N White (J Maunder 77); B Moon, E Taione (J Poole 77), H Williams; J Kirsten, J Hill (S Skinner 48); D Ewers (M Kvesic 66), J Vermeulen, S Simmonds. Replacements: (not used), B Keast, E Pieretto, H Skinner.
Tries - Vermeulen, Hogg; Conversion - Steenson (2); Penalties - Steenson (4)
Referee: C Maxwell-Keys