Irish 18 Chiefs 14

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London Irish 18

Exeter Chiefs 14

Mark Stevens at the Brentford Community Stadium

There was a time when Exeter Chiefs would look to make hay during the international windows, making the most of rival absentees, and filling their boots whilst rival squads were stretched.

In recent years, though, Rob Baxter has seen a growing contingent of his own players stride forward on the Test stage, leaving numbers back in Devon somewhat stretched.

Arriving in the capital today, the Chiefs boss was without his five-strong England contingent, as well as Christ Tshiunza (Covid) and a glut of other first-team names still on the treatment table.

In the week, Baxter had said the upcoming month or so would be a defining period, not only for his team, but for a number of individuals as well. For the opening 25 minutes here, the Chiefs – to a man – stood firm, racing into a dominant 14-0 lead thanks to converted tries from Olly Woodburn and Patrick Schickerling.

Hosts London Irish, however, would counter impressively before the interval, bagging scores of their own through Matt Cornish and James Stokes, together with eight points from the boot of fly-half Paddy Jackson.

It was a lead that would hold throughout a second half in which they bossed territory and possession, but could not find a way through what proved a stubborn defensive rearguard for the visitors.

The Chiefs threatened in patches, but Irish was equal to the task, turning them over particularly in a cut-and-thunder final quarter to seal a first league double for the Exiles in 11 years.

Their success saw them leapfrog Baxter’s side into sixth spot and kept alive their own aspirations of contesting for the play-offs come the end of the season.

Not that it look that way during the opening exchanges as the Chiefs came storming out of the traps. Although an early penalty to the corner failed to bring reward because of a wonky line-out, the wait for the opening points did not take long.

With five minutes elapsed on the clock, Joe Simmonds sliced through the middle of the Irish backline to get his side firmly on the front foot. With the cavalry close at hand, the Exeter pack took up the charge to propel the visitors deep behind enemy lines.

It was slick execution from the Chiefs, but it was the double pump from Jack Maunder that created the opening for Woodburn – on his first start of the season – to glide in by the posts for the opening score, which was converted by Simmonds.

Ten minutes later and the visitors were doubling their tally. A tap penalty from Jack Innard close to the Irish line set up the Chiefs to go through the forwards once again, the beneficiary on this occasion being Namibian-born prop Schickerling, who was able to rumble over for his first-ever top-flight score.

Two scores up, the Chiefs were good value for their lead. However, they failed to build on their advantage and it was the home side who were quick to respond, hooker Cornish rumbling over for their opening try after Irish had worked around the corner off a driving maul.

Former Ireland international Jackson failed with the conversion attempt, but he made amends with two successive penalties shortly after, hauling the Exiles back into contention as the half drew towards a close.

The Chiefs loss Don Armand to a hefty head knock and in his absence it was Irish who took the lead on the stroke of half time, this despite the Chiefs butchering a golden opportunity of their own from another close-range tap penalty.

Having threatened initially down the left through an industrious carry from former Wallaby, Adam Coleman, they masterfully worked the ball back the other way through the hands of Jackson and `Ben Loader, the latter offloading to Stokes, who took to the air to score in the right corner.

Referee Matt Carley and his fellow officials were undecided at first as to the validity of the score, but after countless reviews and a quick consultation with Luke Pearce, it was the home fans who were cheering the award of the score, converted by Jackson.


With little to choose between the two sides as they emerged for the second half, it was all to play for during a second half in which the Exiles now had a hefty breeze at their backs.

Exeter, just as they had done in the first half, started brightly again. Tom O’Flaherty was an ever-willing runner with ball in hand, whilst the likes of Dave Ewers and Jannes Kirsten continued to offer sizeable bulk on the carrying front.

That opening blast was short and sweet and having soaked up the Chiefs pressure, it was Irish who would control much of the battle for territory and possession. They pushed and probed, particularly around the middle part of the pitch, but Baxter’s side were proving miserly in their quest to keep them at bay.

Half chances came and went for the hosts, before a superb kick chase from Exeter full-back Stuart Hogg momentarily got his side into the Irish half. It was somewhat of a false dawn for the Chiefs who, despite getting some hearty backing from the Travelling Tribe, were guilty of producing too many untimely errors.

Both sides turned to their bench in a bid to ignite the contest. Exeter’s Sam Maunder and Josh Hodge both looked lively in their cameos, but try as they may to find a wayu through, the Londoners were having none of it.

At the other end, Jackson saw a penalty chance slip wide of the mark with five minutes to go, before the visitors tried one more time to try and snatch something at the death. Again, they went through their phases diligently enough, but the much-needed final thrust failed to materialise.

It was tough to watch, particularly as Irish looked to close the contest out. A simple game of ‘keep ball’ clearly frustrated Baxter and his team as the seconds ticked by. And when Irish were awarded another penalty with the last kick of the game, Jackson opted for the posts, ensuring there would be no comeback hope for the visitors.

Jackson again failed with his kick at goal, but it mattered not in the grand scheme of things. As Irish celebrated, so the Chiefs had to console themselves for a second successive week.

Irish: J Stokes (K Rowe 68); B Loader, C Rona, B van Rensburg, L Cinti; P Jackson, N Phipps, W Goodrick-Clarke (F Gigena 68), M Cornish (M Willemse 68), O Hoskins (M van der Merwe 68); R Simmons, A Coleman (C Munga 74); M Rogerson (capt, J-M Gonzalez 57), T Pearson, S O’Brien (O Cracknell 57).Replacements (not used):H O’Sullivan.

Tries – Cornish, Stokes; Conversion – Jackson; Penalties – Jackson (2)

Chiefs: S Hogg; O Woodburn (J Hodge 59), I Whitten, H Skinner, T O’Flaherty; J Simmonds (capt), J Maunder (S Maunder 54); J Kenny (B Keast 50), J Innard (J Yeandle 54), P Schickerling (J Iosefa-Scott 54); J Gray, S Skinner; D Ewers, J Kirsten, D Armand (S Grondona 31). Replacements (not used): D Jenkins, S O’Brien.

Tries – Woodburn, Schickerling; Conversions – J Simmonds (2)

Referee: M Carley

Attendance: 11,555

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