Warriors 19 Chiefs 34
Worcester Warriors 19
Exeter Chiefs 34
Mark Stevens at Sixways
New Dad Matt Kvesic capped a week to remember by claiming Exeter’s all-important bonus point try as the Chiefs moved back to the top of Pool C in this season’s Premiership Rugby Cup.
Having started the week playing the doting other half to wife Felicity as she gave birth to their first son Albert, he finished it by finding his way over in the dying minutes to put the seal on a tremendous second half fightback from the Devonians.
Rob Baxter’s side hit back from 19-10 down early in the second half to run in 24 unanswered points.
Kvesic - back on his former Sixways stomping ground - got the most important score of them all for the visitors, but there were notable scores from Olly Woodburn, Jacques Vermeulen and Sean Lonsdale, alongside a perfect kicking record from fly-half Joe Simmonds.
In reply, Worcester - who were good value for an hour at least - did have their moments, particularly through winger Tom Howe who was the stand-out figure for them, helping himself to a hat-trick of tries, two of which were converted by fly-half Jono Lance.
With lock Stan South the only player in the starting XV retained from the week previous at Leicester Tigers, it was a new-look Chiefs side that took to the field against a Warriors outfit, who themselves had made ten changes in personnel from their defeat at Bath.
For many of those on duty it was their first competitive action since the Gallagher Premiership Final against Saracens at Twickenham in early June. Clearly eager to impress on their first outing, the Chiefs were guilty of trying to get their hands on the ball too much and a flurry of early penalties allowed the Warriors to position themselves deep inside the Exeter 22.
Gifted a five-metre line-out, the Warriors made the most of their early opportunity, using the set-piece to work the opening for Howe to be driven over by the home pack for the game’s opening score, which Lance was unable to convert from wide on the right touchline.
It was hardly the start Baxter and the Chiefs would have craved, but they looked to respond swiftly. South’s towering leap at a line-out allowed Jack Maunder to release Ollie Devoto through the middle, but as Jack Yeandle came round on the wrap, the skipper could not quite gather the ball, spilling it forward with the try-line in sight.
The Chiefs, however, were beginning to find some rhythm and tempo in their game and on 17 minutes they claimed their first try. A clever short line-out saw Yeandle combine with Alec Hepburn, the England man fed Maunder, whose pass inside to the backs worked a marvellous opening for Woodburn to ghost round from the flank and glide his way over for the score, converted by Simmonds.
Up and running, the Chiefs continued to pile forward and their cause was aided when home lock Andrew Kitchener was sin-binned for a professional foul by referee JP Doyle as the visitors looked set to pounce again.
Sadly, the Devonians could not make the subsequent penalty pay off and it was the Warriors who stunned their rivals, producing a clever counter-attack involving Cornell du Preez and Lance, whose floated pass to the right released Howe, who turned on the after burners and scorched his way through the Exeter back-line to score under the posts.
As half-time approached, the Chiefs had a number of decent chances to haul themselves back into the lead, but stubborn Worcester defence, coupled with Exeter’s failure to hold onto possession, meant the scoreline remained untouched at the turn.
HALF TIME WORCESTER WARRIORS 12 EXETER CHIEFS 7
On the resumption, the Chiefs started brightly and they dominated the opening exchanges with some more powerful carrying deep inside the Worcester half. However, just as they took their phase play well into double figures, a hefty collision in midfield saw Devoto’s night brought to an abrupt end.
As he was stretchered from the field to a warm round of applause from everyone inside Sixways, it meant a re-jig to the Chiefs back division with the experienced Gareth Steenson brought on at fly-half with Simmonds switching inside to fill the void left by the departed England international.
When play finally resumed, the Chiefs were again quickly back into their stride and some more hard-hitting attacking play saw them finally rewarded with a penalty that Simmonds was able to convert with consummate ease.
What should have been the trigger for the visitors to kick-on did not quite materialise and it was the Warriors who pounced - again through the impressive Howe - who having been fed the ball wide on the right, drew the cover before chipping over Steenson and winning the race to the try-line. Lance converted again to put his side nine points clear.
If the score was not enough for the Chiefs to contend with, the loss of full-back Phil Dollman being helped from the field with a leg injury meant scrum-half Sam Maunder was thrust into the action in the anchor slot.
With no backs left on the bench, Baxter turned to his replacements in the forwards to offer some fresh impetus into the Chiefs play. The tactic quickly paid dividends as props Ben Moon and Marcus Street won the visitors a penalty from which the visitors were able to reduce the deficit through a second Simmonds penalty.
Moments later and more scrum woe for the Warriors saw the Chiefs this time fire the penalty to the left corner. Everyone knew what was coming next, including the home side, but they could do nothing to thwart there juggernaut Exeter eight, who combined as one to send Vermeulen over for his second try in as many games. Simmonds converted to put his side in front for the first time on the night.
All of sudden the Chiefs had the bit between their teeth and when Steenson fired a lengthy clearance, sparking a foot race between Dean Hammond and Tom O’Flaherty, it was the Exeter man who gathered possession to create fast ball for the visitors. However, just as they looked primed to pounce, Caleb Montgomery appeared to slap the ball out of Jack Maunder’s grasp.
The officials clocked the incident, but just to be sure they went for a check with the TV match official Keith Lewis. Subsequent replays were shown on Worcester’s new, state-of-the-art screens, all of which led to a yellow card for the Warriors back-row.
Unlike the first half, the Chiefs could make their numerical advantage pay this time round. A hanging box kick from Sam Maunder saw Woodburn set off at a rate of knots, he rose highest in the aerial duel with Nick David, before offloading to Steenson who cantered towards the try-line. Although the Irishman was felled just shy of the whitewash, the Chiefs pack were close at hands and after a couple of rumbles, Lonsdale was the man driven under the posts for a third converted score.
With the bonus point firmly in their sights, the Chiefs now went for the severely exposed Worcester jugular. Moon and Kvesic were held with the initial raid, but when they tried for yet another surge, there would be no stopping Kvesic as he drove powerfully over the line, much to the delight of the small contingent of Exeter fans who had made the Friday jaunt up the M5.
Simmonds again obliged with the additional extras to cap a perfect night with his trusty right boot.
It’s onto Derby Day now for the Chiefs, who will need to assess injuries to Ian Whitten, Devoto and Dollman, before next Saturday’s showdown with local rivals Bristol Bears.
Warriors: J Shillcock (N David 62); T Howe, A Hearle, A Beck, D Hammond; J Lance (capt), M Heaney (G Simpson 75); R Bower (K Owen 10), I Miller (B Cutting 42), C Carey (J Morris 59); A Kitchener, G Kitchener (J Clegg 59); C Montgomery, S Lewis (M Williams 56), C du Preez. Replacements (not used): S van Breda.
Tries - Howe (3); Conversions - Lance (2)
Yellow Cards: A Kitchener, Montgomery
Chiefs: P Dollman (S Maunder 49); T O’Flaherty, I Whitten (T Hendrickson 40), O Devoto (G Steenson 42), O Woodburn; J Simmonds, J Maunder; A Hepburn (B Moon 52), J Yeandle (capt, J Poole 78), H Williams (M Street 52); S South, S Lonsdale; D Ewers (J Kirsten 59), R Capstick (J Vermeulen 59), M Kvesic.
Tries - Woodburn, Vermeulen, Lonsdale, Kvesic; Conversions - J Simmonds (4); Penalties - J Simmonds (2)
Referee: JP Doyle