Match Report: Harlequins 22 Chiefs 14
After the highlights of the opening the weekend, the Exeter Chiefs fell to their first league defeat of the season in a thrilling contest with Harlequins at the Twickenham Stoop.
It was a tale of missed opportunities for the visitors as they created chance after chance, just unable to make the last pass stick, but there were real signs of progress for Director of Rugby Rob Baxter and his young team that featured only four players who started in this fixture last season.
A Harlequins blitz, in the middle twenty minutes of the first-half proved to be the turning point of the match, and despite some heroic defending and slick attack from the men from Devon, it wasn’t enough to snatch back the victory.
The match was marred for Exeter by a serious injury to Josh Hodge, who dislocated his elbow falling awkwardly after taking a high-ball, and will be heading for scans to assess the extent of the damage this week.
The game got off to the perfect start for the Chiefs, and it was the man of the hour Hodge who sparked their attack. The speedy full back gathering the ball from a deep kick from Quins and setting off on a trademark mazy run across the defensive line waiting for his moment to strike.
He cut through the home defence like a hot knife through butter, gliding effortlessly across the ground with that languid pace that has become a trademark of his, before being dragged down just short of the line.
Exeter went to phase play, carrying through the forwards and slowly grinding down the Quins last ditch defence before the biggest of them all, Ehren Painter, crashed over to claim the opening score, Henry Slade converting to put the Chiefs 0-7 up after just 5 minutes.
Harlequins weren’t down for long and they came charging back, reclaiming the ball from the restart and settling into their attacking patterns, with new fly-half Jarrod Evans pulling the strings for the Londoners.
The ball spread wide to their left, and some neat interplay put flanker Jack Kenningham away, with Evans converting to bring the scores level.
The Chiefs were showing plenty of attacking endeavour, Tommy Wyatt breaking the defensive line off the back of a lovely shoulder ball from Tom Cairns, but the winger couldn’t quite link up with the support and the chance went begging.
Instead it was the home team who struck again. Exeter conceding a penalty at ruck-time, which Quins kicked to within 25 metres of the visitor’s line. The ball came straight off the top and Chiefs defensive coach Omar Mouneimne will be frustrated at the tail-gunners at the back of the line. An inside ball from fly-half Evans found Louis Lynagh in acres of space, with the dangerous winger bursting through the last ditch defenders to score. 14-7 after fifteen minutes.
There was real venom in the Chiefs carries, with the trio of Fisilau, Tuima and Vermeulen doing outstanding work with ball in hand at the coal face, putting the visitors on the front foot and creating chances.
After an error-free performance against Saracens, it was the handling that let Exeter down on this occasion, not finishing off the half-chances that turned into tries last time out.
On the half-hour mark, Josh Hodge came down after taking a high-ball and immediately howled in pain, throwing out his gum-shield and yelling for medical attention.
His removal forced a back-line re-shuffle, with Tommy Wyatt moving to full-back and Immanuel Feyi-Waboso joining the fray on the wing.
With five minutes left in the first-half the home side struck again. A frustrating penalty for obstruction on the kick chase, gave Quins the chance to drive the ball deep into Chiefs territory and following a few phases off the lineout, summer signing Will Joseph escaped free on the left to give them the half-time advantage.
Half-Time: Harlequins 19 – 7 Exeter Chiefs
The opening period of the second half saw Exeter under the pump, waves of Harlequins attacks crashing against Chiefs rocks. The defence was superb, and with impressive line-speed the visitors held the home side at bay. Henry Slade pressed hard from thirteen, shutting off the options for Quins to go wide and making some key defensive reads.
After weathering the storm, the Chiefs dragged themselves back up-field, and there were chances. Ethan Roots put his shoulder to the wheel throughout the match, carrying hard and putting in some shots in defence. However, the final pass just wouldn’t stick.
It wasn’t until the last ten minutes of the game that the Chiefs struck back, from an attacking line-out the visitors went to their pick and go game and it was replacement hooker Dan Frost, returning from injury, who dived over and scored the try.
Exeter had a chance to steal the victory at the death, Will Haydon-Wood breaking the line and scorching into enemy territory, but it was more of the same from the Chiefs and the last pass went to deck and with it, the final chance at glory.
Adding insult to injury, with the final kick of the game, the home team slotted a penalty to deny Exeter a losing bonus point.
Whilst they may be leaving the big smoke with no points, this was a promising display from the Chiefs, filled with cutting attack and real moments of flair. To prevent this Harlequins team from scoring a try in the second forty was a testament to a defence that looked well drilled and organised.
It was another rock-solid set piece display from Exeter and with a short turn around before they take on Sale Sharks back at Sandy Park, no doubt Baxter and his team will buoyed by the performance of his young squad.w
Chiefs: J Hodge (I Feyi-Waboso 20); B Hammersley (W Haydon-Wood 69), H Slade, T Hendrickson, T Wyatt; H Skinner, T Cairns (N Armstrong 58); S Sio (B Keast 50), J Yeandle © (D Frost 50), E Painter (J Iosefa-Scott 50), R Tuima (A Davis 58), L Pearson, E Roots, J Vermeulen (R Vintcent 62), G Fisilau.
Tries: E Painter, D Frost Conversions: H Slade (2)
Harlequins: Nick David; Tyrone Green, Will Joseph, Luke Northmore (W Edwards 69), Louis Lynagh (O Beard 61); Jarrod Evans, Will Porter (M Green 61); Fin Baxter (J Els 69), Sam Riley (N Jibulu 53), Will Collier (S Kerrod 53); Joe Launchbury, George Hammond (D Lamb 61); Jack Kenningham (J Chisolm 77), Will Evans, Alex Dombrandt.
Tries: J Kenningham, L Lynagh, W Joseph Conversions: J Evans (2) Penalty: W Edwards
Referee: Adam Leal