Warriors 20 Chiefs 24
Worcester Warriors 20
Exeter Chiefs 24
Mark Stevens at Sixways
Not for the first time at Sixways, Exeter Chiefs left it late to deliver the knockout blow to hosts Worcester Warriors.
Having pounded away at their rivals for virtually the whole of the second half, it was England prop Harry Williams who floored the Midlanders with his decisive match-winning score just five minutes from time.
It was the just rewards for a staggering 32-phase attack from the Chiefs, whose willingness to fight until the death eventually saw them to their second Gallagher Premiership win of the season.
His score, coupled with further tries from Jack Maunder and Matt Kvesic, ensured it was a quick return to winning ways for the Devonians following their narrow 13-10 loss at Bath the previous week.
Worcester, it has to be said, will be disappointed. Not only did they lead 17-10 at the turn thanks to a brace of scores from winger Perry Humphreys, but after the break they were guilty of giving away a string of needless penalties.
Those indiscretions - just as it had done to the Chiefs at The Rec - were to prove pivotal in their eventual downfall, gifting their rivals the opportunity to glean crucial possession and territory at key moments in the contest.
The Chiefs, though, will not care one bit. Instead, they are back on the winning trail and in buoyant mood heading into next Sunday’s local derby against Bristol Bears.
Ahead of kick-off, Baxter saw little reason to tinker too much with his starting line-up despite the narrow loss.The two changes he did make were both in the pack, where Alec Hepburn was recalled in place of Ben Moon at loosehead, and former Worcester favourite Kvesic came in for his first start of the season at No.8 with Sam Simmonds missing out.
On the other side, Worcester drafted in scrum-half Michael Heaney for his first start of the season, while Callum Black and Graham Kitchener were brought into the home pack from the side that loss to league leaders Northampton Saints last time out.
With the crowd falling silent ahead of kick-off as part of the home side’s Remembrance Day plans, it was the Chiefs who started the contest the brighter as they made the most of their early possession to craft a penalty chance after the Warriors were penalised for not releasing at the ruck.
Positioned centre field, fly-half Simmonds stepped forward to administer the result kick, which drifted between the posts at the South End.
Visiting joy, however, proved short-lived as within two minutes the Warriors responded with the first try of the game. Having pressed initially down the left flank, they worked the ball back inside with a clever switch play that released Humphreys, who had drifted in from the opposite wing. Still with plenty to do, the Worcester flyer applied the after burners, darted towards - and around - Stuart Hogg to crash over for the score.
Scottish international Weir slotted the conversion before extending the home side’s lead with a long-range penalty after Kvesic was pulled up for not releasing at the tackle by referee Tom Foley.
Although the Chiefs continued to boss possession, finding territory was proving troublesome against a hard-working Warriors defence, who were throwing themselves into the contact as though their very existence depended on it.
When Baxter’s side did find a way through, Tom O’Flaherty releasing Alex Cuthbert on the charge through the middle, the back-up was slow in arriving for the Chiefs and it was the Welshman who was pinged for holding on just 10 metres from the home try-line.
At the other end, the Warriors showed their rivals how it should be done, stinging the Chiefs with a second try. Slick hands fashioned space out wide for Niall Annett, whose slip pass to the right was able to find Humphreys, who needed no second invitation to claim his second converted score of the afternoon.
Down by two converted scores - and with the clock heading towards the red - the Chiefs finally clicked into gear. O’Flaherty’s clever break in off the right flank saw him release Vermeulen on a rampaging run. Like an African Rhino on the charge, he thundered his way deep into the home 22 before offloading to the waiting Maunder, who was able to glide over for a simple score, converted by Simmonds.
HALF TIME WORCESTER WARRIORS 17 EXETER CHIEFS 10
Having been given the perfect pick-me-up just before the break, it was the Chiefs who were quickly on the front foot as they looked to claw back the seven-point deficit. However, despite dominating the opening ten minutes of the half, they were again guilty of not making the most of their opportunities.
First, Dave Ewers coughed up possession when he was double-tackled on the Worcester 10m line, then the support was again slow in arriving when England international Harry Williams bulldozed his way off a maul.
It was, however, encouraging stuff from the Chiefs, who brought on Aussie international Nic White for his first taste of Premiership action following his recent exertions with the Wallabies at the Rugby World Cup.
White’s speed of service helped to add further tempo to the Chiefs attack, but still they continued to be thwarted - not only by their stubborn hosts, but also their own mistakes - summed up when they were penalised for crossing in midfield.
It gifted the Warriors an easy out from their own half and from the resultant set-piece, it was the Midlanders who showed their first meaningful threat of the second period. Thankfully, it was a short venture into the Chiefs half as Williams dominated replacement Ethan Waller to claim a crucial penalty.
Another penalty followed almost immediately when Michael Fatialofa’s needless charge into a ruck allowed Simmonds to slam the Chiefs to within five metres of the home line. Although the initial drive off the line-out was held, the visitors regrouped in numbers to propel Kvesic over for the try, which Simmonds converted to level the game up.
It was no more than the Chiefs deserved for their efforts, but no sooner had they drew level, it was their turn to shoot themnselves in the foot, a hand in at the ruck following a Humphreys break allowed Weir to restore the home side’s lead with a second successful penalty.
Play was momentarily halted whilst referee Foley dealt with audio issues on his earpiece, but when play finally resumed it was the Chiefs who again kicked back into life. The introduction of Jannes Kirsten off the bench added some additional heavyweight force to their ball-carrying, which really came alive in the dying embers of the match.
Sensing the opportunity was there for them to strike, the Chiefs worked their way through phase upon phase of attack. The Warriors, to their credit were standing firm under mounting pressure, but eventually their dam did burst under the force of the Exeter onslaught. And it was Williams who peeled off from a ruck to ghost over for the all-important score.
Simmonds used all of the resultant minute to help kill the clock, before dispatching the conversion to seal a famous victory. Not since 2012 when Sireli Naqelevuki barged his way over at the same venue has the Chiefs bench erupted in such delight!
Warriors: C Pennell; P Humphreys, A Beck, R Mills (capt), M Nanai; D Weir, M Heaney; C Black (E Waller 51), N Annett (J Taufete’e 54), C Carey (R Palframan 51); A Bresler (M Fatialofa 54), G Kitchener; T Hill, S Lewis (M Mama 35, F Venter 76), C du Preez (GJ Van Velze 56). Replacement (not used): G Simpson.
Tries - Humphreys (2); Conversions - Weir (2); Penalties - Weir (2)
Chiefs: S Hogg; T O’Flaherty, I Whitten, S Hill (T Hendrickson 65), A Cuthbert; J Simmonds, J Maunder (N White 51); A Hepburn (B Keast 65), J Yeandle (capt), H Williams; D Dennis (S Lonsdale 61), J Hill; D Ewers, J Vermeulen (J Kirsten 67), M Kvesic. Replacements (not used): E Taione, M Street, G Steenson.
Tries - J Maunder, Kvesic, Williams; Conversions - J Simmonds (3); Penalty - J Simmonds
Referee: T Foley