Harlequins 3 Chiefs 33
Exeter Chiefs 33
Mark Stevens at The Stoop
Start as you mean to go on!
Last season’s double winners kicked-off the defence of their Gallagher Premiershipcrown with an emphatic victory in the nation’s capital.
Just 27 days after they lifted English Rugby’s top prize across the road at HQ, Rob Baxter’s side produced a ruthless final quarter to secure maximum reward against hosts Harlequins.
No.8 Sam Simmonds led the way, claiming three of Exeter’s five tries, the others were scored by Dave Ewers and replacement Stu Townsend with Joe Simmonds mopping the scoring up with four conversions.
Harlequins, who were competitive for a good hour, claimed their only reward through a first half penalty from fly-half Marcus Smith.
Back in harness after just three proper training sessions - and with a glut of star names missing through either international call-ups or recent surgery - it was still a powerful-looking Chiefs outfit that took to the field at The Stoop.
Club captain Jack Yeandle led the way in a pack, which saw Will Witty and Don Armand form a new-look pairing in the engine room, while behind Argentinian whizz kld Facundo Cordero was given only his third start in a Chiefs shirt at full-back.
Harlequins, meanwhile, were themselves in fine fettle, boasting in their ranks the gifted Smith, Danny Care, Mike Brown and South African powerhouses Andre Esterhuizen and new skipper Stephan Lewies.
On a dreary night - again played out in front of no crowd - the opening exchanges were restricted to a slug-fest up front as the respective packs looked to gain an early edge.
The Chiefs won the first scrum penalty, only for their rivals to counter on the next, Alec Hepburn penalised for going to the ground. Unlike the Chiefs, Harlequins opted for the posts, but the normally reliable Smith pulled his kick wide of the target.
Handed a second opportunity on 13 minutes, this time for an infringement by Sam Simmonds, the young playmaker made no mistake, slotting a successful kick between the posts.
Almost immediately the Chiefs looked to respond, a clever grubber kick in behind from Ollie Devoto sparked a foot race for the line between Olly Woodburn and Brown, but the chase came to nothing for the visitors.
Undeterred, Baxter’s side continued to press and midway through the half they struck gold. A line-out just inside the Harlequins half saw Jack Maunder, Devoto and Joe Simmonds all link-up, the latter releasing his elder sibling at a rate of knots.
Still with plenty to do, the all-action forward raced through the heart of the Harlequins defence, showing a clean pair of heels to home winger Nathan Earle, before touching down for the game’s opening try, converted by his brother.
It was scintillating stuff from Simmonds who, for some unknown reason, continues to be ignored by England head coach Eddie Jones. Clearly, he doesn’t see what most people do when it comes to the current European Player of the Year.
England’s loss, however, is certainly Exeter’s gain and so it would prove later in the contest.
Harlequins, though, continued to play their part in an absorbing first half in which the kick battle reigned supreme. They were often sprightly in attack but, much like the Chiefs, they each spurned a couple of decent chances with some loose, early-season handling and decision-making.
HALF TIME: HARLEQUINS 3 EXETER CHIEFS 7
Exeter’s dominance at the set-piece towards the end of the first half saw Harlequins coach Paul Gustard change both his props for the start of the second half, but their first real involvement in the game saw them try - yet fail - to halt one of the Chiefs trademark, five-metre, catch-and-drive moves.
Having fluffed an earlier opportunity, the visitors ruthlessly executed their next chance, forming as an eight-man torpedo that blasted Ewers over for a try in the right-hand corner.
Harlequins needed a rapid response having falling further behind - and they thought they got it when centre Luke Northmore crashed over. Sadly, home cheers were extinguished in an instance, referee Christophe Ridley adjudging Alex Dombrandt had blocked two Chiefs tacklers with a crossing line.
The Chiefs made the most of the let-off, working their way back down the other end with a series of soft penalties.
Jannes Kirsten threatened with one such move, coughing up possession at the crucial stage, before Simmonds took centre stage in the final ten minutes of the contest.
The England international rumbled over for his second of the game on 71 minutes, forcing his way over from a close-range line-out move. And, just moments later, he repeated the feat, producing a virtual carbon copy of his previous score.
Joe Simmonds slotted conversions to both those scores, as well as adding the coupe de grace with the final kick of the game, adding the extras to Townsend’s last-gasp score.
The scrum-half burrowed over in the final minute for a fifth try, this after Luke Cowan-Dickie - back in tow after recent knee surgery - had come within a whisker of scoring himself with a brilliant, pick-and-go drive.
This was not just a dream start to the new campaign for the Chiefs, but a powerful reminder to their rivals that the ‘Men in Black’ are already hell-bent on adding to last season’s success.
Harlequins: M Brown; N Earle (T Green 56), L Northmore (B Tapuai 68), A Esterhuizen, C Murley; M Smith, D Care; S Garcia Botta (J Musk 41), S Baldwin, W Louw (S Kerrod 41); M Symons (G Young 15), S Lewies (caps); T Lawday (A White 63), W Evans, A Dombrandt. Replacements: (not used): J Els, J Stafford.
Penalty - Smith
Chiefs: F Cordero (T Hendrickson 52); T O’Flaherty, I Whitten, O Devoto (H Skinner 73), O Woodburn; J Simmonds, J Maunder (S Townsend 61); A Hepburn (B Moon 55), J Yeandle (capt, L Cowan-Dickie 58), H Williams (M Street 63); W Witty (T Price 70), D Armand; D Ewers (R Capstick 76), J Kirsten, S Simmonds.
Tries - S Simmonds (3), Ewers, Townsend; Conversion - J Simmonds (4)
Referee: C Ridley