Harlequins 34 Chiefs 30
Exeter Chiefs 30
Mark Stevens at The Stoop
Exeter Chiefs were made to pay the penalty, quite literally, as an injury time penalty try saw Harlequins to a dramatic victory at The Stoop.
With the clock deep into the red - and the hosts pushing hard in attack - the patience of referee Christophe Ridley finally caved in as the official adjudged Rob Baxter’s side had transgressed one too many times.
As Harlequins and their fans erupted into a wall of noise, the Chiefs were left to reflect on what might have been, particularly given their stubborn resistance during a pulsating final quarter.
Baxter and his fellow coaches were less than impressed with the final decision, but equally they will look into other reasons as to why their side were unable to find the necessary push that would have got them over the finishing line.
Skipper Joe Simmonds once again underlined his blossoming talent, finishing the game with 25 of his side’s 30 points, while Phil Dollman claimed the other score, dotting down Exeter’s opener inside the opening throws of the contest.
In reply, Simmonds’ opposite number, Marcus Smith, was equally impressive. He claimed one of Harlequins’ four tries, the others went to Paul Lasike and Tevita Cavubati, as well as punting over a further 12 points.
For both youngsters, exciting futures certainly lie in store, particularly as they look to drive their respective sides forward on all fronts.
Ahead of kick-off, the Chiefs arrived in the capital brimming with confidence and desperate to maintain their hot streak following notable wins over Gloucester and Northampton Saints. Baxter made three changes in personnel, bringing in props Alec Hepburn and Enrique Pieretto, as well as handing a first Premiership start of the season to Sam Skinner.
Harlequins, meanwhile, were looking to bounce back after their narrow loss at Bath the week previous. Prop Mark Lambert led them out on this his 250th Premiership appearance and he was joined in the side by the returning Matt Symons and Travis Ismaiel, the latter a late call-up for Ross Chisholm who failed a pre-game fitness test.
With all personnel present and correct, it was the visitors who started the brighter. Making the most of some poor work from Danny Care on the kick-off, they won back possession and slowly set about inflicting their patient attacking game on the Londoners. Just three minutes had elapsed when the Chiefs made their mark, the Exeter pack punching their significant weight through a series of attacking waves, before the ball was worked out to the back division where full-back Dollman came into the line, then worked his way inside the shoulder of Smith before galloping clear and over the line for the opening try of the game.
Skipper Joe Simmonds ensured it gained maximum reward, landing a testing conversion in the conditions that were changing by the minute.
Harlequins countered almost immediately as Smith atoned for his earlier error, the young playmaker landing a lengthy penalty after the Chiefs front-row were pulled up by referee Christophe Ridley for dropping a scrum.
At the other end, Joe Simmonds restored Exeter’s seven-point cushion when he landed a similar effort, given this time after former England captain Chris Robshaw was pinged for side entry as he looked to turn over possession midway inside his own half.
It was end-to-end stuff from both sides and when Robshaw and Alex Domnbrandt combined to turn over the Chiefs in attack, the quick ball allowed Smith to spot a hole in behind the Exeter defensive line. Dollman did his best to cover the danger, but he was quickly swamped by a plethora of home defenders back behind his own try-line.
Awarded the five-metre scrum, Quins’ sensed their opportunity. Another scrum penalty saw Care tap quickly before offloading to Lasike, whose powerful burst through the heart of the Chiefs midfield was literally unstoppable.
Smith banged over the conversion to not only that score, but then added a penalty shortly after to put his side up for the first time in the match.
However, as half time approached, the Chiefs were able to draw level when Simmonds added his second successful penalty, the Exeter No.10 punishing Scott Baldwin for needlessly entering at the side of a ruck.
HALF TIME HARLEQUINS 13 EXETER CHIEFS 13
With little to choose between either side following a lively first 40 minutes, it was the hosts who set the tone on the resumption. A series of early penalties allowed them to position themselves deep inside the Chiefs 22.
Dombrandt saw a potential try chalked off for a knock-on as he attempted to dot down, but referee Ridley came back for another penalty, which this time the home side made count. Strong work again from American powerhouse Lasike saw him propel himself towards the line at breakneck speed - and although he was chopped down just shy of the whitewash, the cavalry was close at hand and it was replacement Cavubati - with virtually his first touch - who squeezed his way over for the converted score.
It was hardly the start the visitors who have envisaged, but the response was swift and emphatic. Fielding possession midway inside his own half, Sam Simmonds gathered the clearance before setting off a blockbusting run through the middle of the pitch. Scorching clear of the cover, he was eventually felled inside the Quins 22.
Hot on his tail was team-mate Nic White, who took up the charge. The Aussie continued the attack, before it was recycled back into the path of Joe Simmonds, whose inside to out, arcing run allowed him to find his way over for the score, which he also converted.
Back on level terms again, it was the Chiefs who suddenly had the bit between their teeth. Sensing their hosts were starting to weaken somewhat, clever approach work from Hepburn, Jacques Vermeulen and Tongan hooker Elvis Taione saw the visitors made decent inroads down the right flank. With Quins’ scrambling in defence, the ball was worked back inside to Joe Simmonds who, not for the first time, spotted the gap and squeezed his way over for his second of the afternoon.
The score should have been the signal for the Chiefs to kick on further. Instead, it was Gustard’s side who countered at the other end, rocking their rivals with a score of their own. Working off a midfield scrum, Care eased the ball into the path of Smith, whose run round the outside exposed the numbers game out wide, and over he cantered for the home side’s third of the afternoon.
With a quarter of the game still to go, it was now firmly game on once more. The Chiefs pressed forward in numbers again - and their efforts were aided when Harlequins lost replacement prop Nick Auterac to the sin-bin for deliberately knocking down a pass from White.
Sadly, the Chiefs could not make their numerical advantage pay dividends and it was the home side who finished the stronger. Still two points adrift of their rivals, Harlequins threw caution to the wind and lay siege on Exeter’s line.
They worked their way through 20+ phases, but were repelled by a fierce defensive line from the Chiefs. As the visitors celebrated their determined efforts, their joy was swiftly quashed as play was brought back for a high tackle by Ollie Devoto on Smith.
Numerous TV replays were shown of the incident on the big screens and with each viewing the calls for sanction grew louder and louder from the home support. In the end, Devoto saw yellow and the Chiefs were forced to batten down the hatches once more.
To their credit, they continued to fight valiantly - not only for the remaining minutes - but also as the game headed into added on time. Harlequins had the hammer down and with it came a flurry of penalties. Ridley’s patience was certainly being tested and when another scrum dropped, he had no hesitation in sending Hepburn to the sidelines.
Another scrum was called for, quickly followed by another, then another. The Chiefs were on the ropes, but they were still very much in the fight. Harlequins, though, were going for broke and when they opted for another set-piece, it was Ridley who took centre stage, darting between the posts and awarding the penalty try.
It was a seismic call, particularly given what had happened in the dying moments, but it mattered not to Harlequins, who were left to toast a prized scalp. For the Chiefs, they will head back to Devon desperate to regroup ahead of next weekend’s derby tussle with Bath.
Harlequins: A Morris; T Ismaiel (N Saunders 57), T Penny (F Saili 67), P Lasike, G Ibitoye; M Smith (B Herron 74), D Care; M Lambert (N Auterac 55), S Baldwin (J Gray 57), S Kerrod (W Collier 62); G Young, M Symons (T Cavubati h/t); J Chisholm, C Robshaw (capt, S Kunatani 57), J Dombrandt.
Tries - Lasike, Cavubati, Smith, Penalty Try; Conversions - Smith (3), Penalty Try; Penalties - Smith (2)
Yellow Card: Auterac
Chiefs: P Dollman (B Keast 80); T O’Flaherty, I Whitten, T Hendrickson (O Devoto 51), O Woodburn; J Simmonds (capt), N White; A Hepburn, E Taione (J Poole 70), E Pieretto; J Kirsten (J Hill 57), S Skinner; D Ewers (D Armand 62), J Vermeulen, S Simmonds. Replacements (not used): P Schickerling, J Maunder, G Steenson.
Tries - Dollman, J Simmonds (2); Conversions - J Simmonds (3); Penalties - J Simmonds (3)
Yellow Card: Devoto, Hepburn
Referee: C Ridley