Gray helps Chiefs return with a win
By Mark Stevens
Exeter Chiefs newcomer Jonny Gray was all smiles after he helped his new club return to Gallagher Premiership action with a 26-13 victory over Leicester Tigers at the weekend.
With top-flight rugby off the agenda since March, it’s certainly been a long, five months for players, coaches and supporters to wait for their fix of the action once again.
During that time, the world has changed and so too have the squads within the English game. Gray was one of eight new faces to be added to the Chiefs mix by Rob Baxter during the enforced lay-off.
However, given the first opportunity to parade the imposing Scottish international, Baxter did not waste any time in giving Gray his first taste of Premiership battle.
“It was great, I loved being out there,” said the 26-year-old post-game. “Obviously, I’m thankful for the opportunity the club have given me, but the boys were very good out there today and I’m really enjoying my time here at the club.”
Despite a strong start from the Tigers, one in which they moved into a 6-0 lead thanks to successful kicks from fly-half George Ford, it was the power play of the home pack which helped pull the Devonians back into the contest.
Flanker Dave Ewers cut the arrears with a try from close range, before full-back Stuart Hogg’s converted try on the stroke of half time helped to give the Chiefs a 12-6 lead at the turn.
Luke Cowan-Dickie’s score two minutes after the restart, soon followed by a penalty try award, not only put the Chiefs in command of proceedings but, more importantly, ensured them of the all-important bonus point.
The Tigers, to their credit, refused to lie down and in a spirited showing, reduced the arrears themselves with a penalty try of their own. However, it was never enough to threaten any kind of major concern within the home ranks.
“It was tough, Leicester really came out firing at us,” added Gray. “We were under a bit of pressure at the start, but we stuck in there, got ourselves going, and in the end came away with what was a very good win.”
Exeter’s much-talked about pack of forwards were again in impressive form – and Gray says it’s no surprise that the Chiefs get the success they do from their all-action eight, based on what he’s seen and experienced so far since his switch from the Glasgow Warriors.
“The work everyone does, the preparation put in by players and coaches, it’s so hard to defend against,” said Gray. “A lot of prep goes into what we do and what we want to achieve. We saw with the two in-house games, there is so much talent within the squad, and it just adds to the competition amongst us all.
“Over the next few weeks, we’ll need every one of those people in the squad. The games are going to come thick and fast, so all of us need to be ready.”
Indeed, next up for the Chiefs is Friday’s trip to third-placed Sale Sharks, quickly followed four days later with a similar away day at second-placed Bristol Bears.
“It’s a big week or so for us,” warned Gray. “Both Sale and Bristol have great squads, so it’s going to be tough for sure. Saturday wasn’t perfect for us, it was a bit stop-start at times, but we got the result we wanted. Now, we’ve got to be ready to go again and tidy a few things up before we head to Sale.”