Gloucester 45 Chiefs 19
Exeter Chiefs 19
Mark Stevens at Kingsholm
Sometimes you have to learn the hard way.
In time, Exeter’s group of highly-rated youngsters make look back at this occasion as a steep learning curve in their overall development, but for now this was a tough pill to swallow for the Chiefs.
Back at Kingsholm for the second time inside a month, there was to be no happy homeward journey this time for the Devonians, who never recovered from Gloucester’s powerful first half offensive.
The Cherry & Whites stormed into a 31-0 lead in as many minutes thanks to tries from Harry Taylor, Jake Morris and two from Alex Morgan, before they wrapped things up after the break with further efforts from George Barton and Jack Reeves.
Rus Tuima grabbed a try on the stroke of half time, before second half efforts from Arthur Relton and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne helped reduce the arrears for the Chiefs. However, it was never enough on an afternoon when they were sadly second best in too many areas.
Having produced an encouraging display, albeit in defeat, against Bristol Bears in their opening fixture of the competition, the Chiefs saw little reason to tinker too much with their personnel on show.
Indeed, they made just one change to their starting line-up, bringing in Richard Capstick at blindside flanker with Lewis Pearson moving into the second-row with Aussie lock Ryan McCauley ruled out with concussion.
Gloucester, meanwhile, made a glut of changes – 17 in total – from their side which had trounced Bath 71-10 the previous. That included handing debuts to Louis Hillman-Cooper, Bryan O’Connor, Arthur Clark, Jack Bartlett and Taylor.
There was, however, a sprinkling of senior stars embedded into the mix, including former England international Billy Twelvetrees, who also skippered the side from centre.
With conditions perfect at Kingsholm, it was the Chiefs who started the brighter, full-back Josh Hodge sounding out their attacking intent inside three minutes with a slaloming run from deep that quickly got the visitors on the front foot.
It was reminiscent of his score here back in March of this year, but this time there was to be no end finish as the hosts scrambled quickly to thwart his path towards the try-line.
Threat averted, it was then the turn of Gloucester to go on the offensive. Using their heavyweight pack to position themselves down field, they not only won a penalty – but also a penalty – that Evans was able to dispatch without too much issue for the game’s opening points.
The Chiefs looked to counter almost immediately, propelling themselves down field with a string of penalties that positioned just metres from the Gloucester line. Initial charges were halted, before Oli Burrows looked to try his luck from a tap penalty just five metres out.
The Welshman did his part of the process well enough, driving at pace for the whitewash, but his team-mates were slow in following him up and he was turned over, much to the delight of the locals.
Just as they had done earlier, Gloucester worked their way back down field, fashioning the opening for them to score the opening try of the game. Hodge did well to thwart the initial raid, but when the hosts recycled the ball back inside through Bartlett, the towering No.8 was able to slip a simple pass into the grasp of Taylor who shot over.
Evans converted that scored and Gloucester’s second which arrived just five minutes later. Having probed down the left side, the home side ripped apart the Chiefs back division, creating an overlap that allowed Morris to dive over in the corner to make it 17-0.
Sadly, things would get no easier for the Chiefs as first they lost the experienced Ian Whitten to the sin-bin for a professional foul, before Gloucester made the numbers game pay dividends when Morgan shot in off the right flank to pick a lovely line through the heart of the Exeter defensive line for a third converted score.
It was one-way traffic as far as the contest was concerned and with just over half an hour played, Gloucester made it 31-0 when they bagged the bonus point score through a second Morgan touchdown.
Somewhat shell-shocked at events occurring around them, it seemed the Chiefs simply could not wait for the half time whistle to come around. To their credit, they finished the half on the front foot and were rewarded with a score of their own when No.8 Tuima bulldozed his way over from close range for their first try, converted with aplomb by the boot of Hodge from out wide.
HALF TIME GLOUCESTER 31 EXETER CHIEFS 7
Tuima’s score was a rare highlight in a first period in which the youthful Chiefs looked distinctly average. On the resumption, though, it was Gloucester who were quickest out of the traps, taking just four minutes to extend their lead.
Using their pack to punch holes into the Exeter rearguard, the ball was eventually spun out to the right – through the hands of at least three home backs – to fly-half Barton who, with little other option but to burrow his head and hope for the best, squeezed his way over in the corner. Evans obliged with another masterful conversion to heap further misery on the Devonians.
Already it appeared the game was over as a meaningful contest, but the Chiefs – to their credit – regrouped well and in a defiant show of resilience, they slowly started to work their way back into contention.
Winger Relton claimed his first-ever try for the club, the England Under-20s flyer brilliantly finishing off in the left-hand corner with an outstretched arm following great approach work involving the lively Jack Walsh and Whitten.
Relton’s score appeared to ignite the Chiefs into their best spell of the match and when they threatened again following more direct play from Whitten and Maunder, Relton looked as though he was sneaking over for a second score, only to be denied by some crude actions from home flanker Jack Clement.
He was duly banished to the sidelines for a ten-minute stint – and it was whilst he was off that the Chiefs scored again, this time through Hidalgo-Clyne. The Scottish international scooted his way over from a quick tap penalty, catching the hosts unaware as they looked to retreat back. Walsh converted and all of a sudden there was a glimmer of hope in the Exeter camp.
Try as they may, the Chiefs huffed and puffed in the final quarter, looking to grab that all-important fourth score for a bonus point. However, a combination of solid home defence, plus poor execution in attack, would hinder the visitors in their hopes of gleaning something from the match.
Instead, it was Gloucester who wrapped things up with just four minutes remaining when replacement Reeves was able to pick his way through a gap in the Chiefs backline to score by the sticks. Twelvetrees added the extras to ensure maximum reward for a second successive week for the Cherry & Whites.
Gloucester: L Evans (J Reeves 70); A Morgan, L Hillman-Cooper, B Twelvetrees (capt), J Morris (O Thorley 56); G Barton, B Meehan (M Jones 65); J Ford-Robinson (O Adkins 57-68, 77), H Walker (M Moulds 55), B O’Connor (J Stanley 67); A Clark, F Thomas (C Jordan 75), J Clement, H Taylor, J Bartlett (S Nagle-Taylor 60).
Tries – Taylor, Morris, Morgan (2), Barton, Reeves; Conversions – Evans (5), Twelvetrees; Penalty – Evans
Yellow Card: Clement
Chiefs: J Hodge (T Wyatt 60); A Relton, S O’Brien, I Whitten (J Barton 67), D John; J Walsh, S Maunder (capt, S Hidalgo-Clyne 63); J Kenny (D Southworth 67), O Burrows (M Norey 67), S Nixon (M Johnson 52); D Jenkins (C Teague 78), L Pearson; R Capstick, A Hinkley (A Hosking 67), R Tuima.
Tries – Tuima, Relton, Hidalgo-Clyne; Conversions – Hodge, Walsh
Yellow Card: Whitten
Referee: J Makepeace