Match Report: Exeter Chiefs 25 – 24 Gloucester
A windy Sandy Park played host to the closing day of the Gallagher Premiership’s Derby Day weekend as Exeter Chiefs secured glory at the death against a threat-filled Gloucester side who staged a second half comeback.
The Chiefs men were determined to come out fighting in defence of their home fortress – where they haven’t lost in a year. Their search for the opening points was made ever so slightly easier when Gloucester’s Jack Clement was sent to the sin bin just two minutes in for a head clash in a high tackle on Rusi Tuima – the Chiefs first try scorer.
Despite their backline being full of fierce jink-steppers with fast feet, it was the Gloucester pack the Chiefs tested first – making the big men scrummage metres from their own line before quick carries cracked their defence open.
There was no fear from scrum half Tom Cairns as he ran into the big hits as he backed himself for the first carry. Dafydd Jenkins thought he was over but the referee and TMO deemed not. With a re-set, Cairns went again and this time it was Tuima who took the second carry as he dived to the short side for the score. Henry Slade, with centre partner Joe Hawkins laying along the turf to steady the tee, then secured the conversion.
Chiefs looked desperate to score again, and it caused some lapses in judgement of both defence and set play calls. Gloucester first looked to threaten through Ollie Thorley feeding Louis Rees-Zammit to break in the Chiefs half. Santi Carreras was his back-up man but the Argentinian knocked ball on in the 22. However, their intent was made clear to their hosts.
Chiefs lost a man on 22 minutes played as Tuima was sin binned for a head knock on George McGuigan on the Chiefs line. The Gloucester hooker was latching on a carrier while Tuima was latching a tackle attempt on the carrier when they clashed heads.
Shortly after, Ethan Roots was penalised for tackling a man off the ball which allowed George Barton to put the ball into touch for the Gloucester men. Working the ball in the 22, Chris Harris secured a well-weighted carry to put his side within range. Micky Young then hit Clement with a ball to run onto as the big back rower read the defence well and carved a line through to cross for the try which Barton converted.
However, Chiefs were to have the last word of the half. Hawkins spotted an option, popping a pass up for Slade. The experienced Chief used his nimble footwork to propel through the attempted tackle to break into clean air. With a cantering Jenkins in support, the Welshman took the pass and had the legs to run in the try. Slade’s conversion attempt was unfortunately held-up by the wind.
Half-time: Chiefs 12 – 7 Gloucester
Gloucester came out of the blocks firing in the second half as errors in judgement defensively hampered the Chiefs, though Gloucester’s handling errors at times brought their attacking phases to an end and allowed the Chiefs time to set.
On 56 minutes, Gloucester struck. With space to move in the Chiefs 22, the fiery speed of the opposition’s backline was given a few seconds to breathe and really gather momentum. From a move he started with a confident carry into contact, Ollie Thorley received the last pass to nip around the scrambling Chiefs defenders to score.
Minutes later, a penalty at the breakdown five metres inside the Gloucester half gave Slade the opportunity to notch the points up on the board for Chiefs as he secured the penalty with a kick splitting the uprights.
However, Gloucester responded twice in quick succession. On 66 minutes it was Rees-Zammit who was fed ball in the corner from replacement Stephen Varney with Barton converting. Then, on 70 minutes, it was the turn of Seb Atkinson – the centre also scoring in the corner following a period of frantic play across the width of the Chiefs 22. Gloucester simply moved ball too fast for the home side to get a foothold in their defensive efforts.
Down but not out, the Chiefs stuck into the grind in the dying minutes of the game. Some incredibly hard work in the 22 following a kick charge-down saw big carries from Aidon Davis – on his first start this season – Josh Iosefa-Scott and Ross Vintcent before returning fan-favourite Stu Townsend superman flew over the breakdown to crash down for the try.
Slade knew how crucial the conversion was to providing the Chiefs a chance of a drop goal or penalty clinching the game and he shot it through the sticks without issue.
The noise of the frenzied crowd was pivotal to the closing minute for Rob Baxter’s men. They roared their Chiefs downfield before the raucous erupted as the Exeter men were awarded a penalty on the Gloucester 10 metre line – within Slade’s range.
With a calmness that indicated nothing of the nail-biting nature of the moment, Slade stepped up to the tee. As fans, coaches and teammates alike held breath and closed eyes, the centre struck the ball and as the noise decibel peaked, the ball soared through to secure the one-point win margin.
Full-time: Chiefs 25 – 24 Gloucester
Chiefs: T Wyatt; I Feyi-Waboso, H Slade, J Hawkins, B Hammersley (O Woodburn 62’, W Haydon-Wood 65’); H Skinner, T Cairns (S Townsend 61’); S Sio (N Abuladze 51’), J Yeandle (D Frost 51’), E Painter (J Iosefa-Scott 51’), R Tuima (L Pearson 61’), D Jenkins (1c), E Roots (R Vintcent 64’), J Vermeulen, A Davis.
Tries: Tuima, Jenkins, Townsend Conversions: Slade 2 Penalties: Slade 2
Yellow card: Tuima
Gloucester: S Carreras; L Rees-Zammit, C Harris, S Atkinson, O Thorley; G Barton, M Young (S Varney 62’); M Vivas (H Elrington 55’), G McGuigan (S Socino 55’), F Balmain (K Gotovtsev 55’), F Clarke, M Alemanno, A Tuisue (F Thomas 17’), L Ludlow, J Clement.
Unused replacements: A Clark, M Atkinson, L Hillman-Cooper.
Tries: Clement, Thorley, Rees-Zammitt, Atkinson Conversions: Barton 2
Yellow card: Clement
Referee: Ian Tempest