Warriors 30 Chiefs 33
Worcester Warriors 30
Exeter Chiefs 33
Mark Stevens at Sixways
Rob Baxter’s Exeter Chiefs side extended their lead at the top of the Gallagher Premiership table to eight points, but not before being given a late scare from Worcester Warriors at Sixways.
Seemingly in cruise control at 33-18, the Devonians shipped two late tries that not only gave the Warriors two vital bonus points, but gave the visitors a nervy final few minutes in this Round 16 encounter.
Until then, the Chiefs had ruled the roost for much of the contest.Full-back Santiago Cordero was the star attraction, providing two of their five tries on the day, as well as providing the assist for Tom O’Flaherty to score also. Elsewhere, Olly Woodburn and Harry Williams also found their way over the try-line with Gareth Steenson obliging with the remainder of the points.
In reply, two Duncan Weir penalties were all Worcester could muster during a first half in which they were distinctly second best. However, news of results elsewhere in the division at half tIme clearly had the desired effect for Alun Solomons’ side as they bagged four scores through Bryce Heem, Ted Hill, Tom Howe and Chris Pennell.
Buoyed by back-to-back victories over Newcastle Falcons and Sale Sharks, Baxter saw little reason to tinker too much with his winning formula, making just two changes to his starting line-up from that which had won at the AJ Bell Stadium seven days earlier. Both came in the back division where Jack Maunder was given the nod at scrum-half in place of Nic White, while O’Flaherty was recalled on the wing after Alex Cuthbert picked up a knock in the Sharks fixture. On the bench, the release of both Williams and Sam Skinner from their respective Six Nations camps, was a welcome boost for the visitors.
The Warriors, meanwhile, were looking to bounce back from their loss to bottom club Newcastle Falcons last time out. Team changes for them saw Niall Annett come in at hooker in place of the injured Jack Singleton, while Callum Black was the other change at loose-head, taking over from Ethan Waller.
Also included in the home ranks was long-serving full-back Pennell, who on his 150th Premiership appearance, got to lead the home side into battle.
Up against a stiff breeze in the opening half, the Chiefs started the contest brightly with full-back Santiago Cordero very much to the fore. The Argentine speedster twice made significant inroads into the Worcester half, but his efforts were all in vain as the Warriors not only soaked up the threat led by him, but also gleaned two penalties that allowed them to clear down field.
And it was from their second penalty that they were able to claim the game’s opening points. A line-out on the edge of the Exeter 22 put them on the front foot and when their maul was hauled to the floor, the Chiefs were pulled up by referee JP Doyle for not releasing at the tackle area. Handed a routine shot at goal, Scottish international Weir did not disappoint, plundering a precision kick between the posts to put Worcester three points to the good.
Home cheers proved short-lived, however, as within a few minutes the Chiefs were in front, clever approach work from the visitors helped to release O’Flaherty on the charge. The winger made decent inroads into the Warriors 22 before Olly Woodburn took up the charge, he too made yards, before flinging the ball right to Cordero, who was able to trot over in the right-hand corner.
The officials were initially unsure as to the validity of the build-up play, but after a lengthy conflab between Doyle and TMO Trevor Fisher, the score was duly awarded to the Chiefs. Steenson narrowly missed with the testing touchline conversion.
At the other end, the Warriors came fighting back immediately.They launched a succession of attacking waves deep in Chiefs territory, but the visitors produced a huge defensive set, which eventually resulted in a turnover attack of their own. Centre Ollie Devoto helped to lead the charge, powering into opposite number Francois Venter, who was forced to depart the field shortly after for a HIA assessment.
Although Venter failed to re-appear following assessment on the sidelines, there was to be no let-up from the Chiefs as they dominated both territory and possession.Although the Warriors did well to repel the initial threat, once the Chiefs juggernaut cranked into gears they started to make significant inroads. The Exeter pack were ever-willing runners, while behind Devoto was proving to be a real thorn in the side of the hosts with his direct running.
Having won a penalty, the Chiefs - as they so often do - went to the corner for rich rewards. To their credit, the Warriors held firm as the maul drive was applied, but once the ball was worked in field, so the momentum generated by Exeter began to mount.Jack Yeandle, Don Armand, Matt Kvesic and Ewers all threatened, the latter held up on the line, before the ball was masterfully worked to the right, where Cordero was able to glide his way over for a second score, this time converted by Steenson with aplomb.
Worcester momentarily countered with a second successful penalty from fly-half Weir, before the Chiefs stung their rivals with a third try on the stroke of half time. Having turned over possession just inside the Warriors half, Maunder fed O’Flaherty round the corner, he kicked in behind, sparking a foot race to the line between himself and Worcester’s Tom Howe. Despite the Warriors man getting to the ball first, he fumbled it on the line, gifting Woodburn the simplest of touchdowns.Again, Steenson added the extras to put his side in command at the turn.
HALF TIME WORCESTER WARRIORS 6 EXETER CHIEFS 19
Firmly in command after a dominant first 40 minutes, it didn’t take the Chiefs long to get back on the attack early in the second period. As before, the Exeter eight provided the artillery, working their way through a succession of phases, but just as they appeared set to strike once more, Ewers knocked on with the line in sight.
Worcester mopped up the loose ball through South African scrum-half Francois Hougaard, but as he darted out of defence, he was clocked by a high tackle from Chiefs prop Greg Holmes. Doyle wanted a closer view of the incident and following replays, the Aussie international was dispatched to the cooler for a ten-minute stint.
It took only two minutes for the Warriors to make their numerical advantage pay, a clever loop-round move involving Annett off a line-out inside the Chiefs 22 provided the opening for Kiwi winger Heem to come crashing through the middle and over the whitewash for the home side’s first try of the day.
The score clearly irked the visitors, who not only regrouped sufficiently, but stung the Warriors with a bonus point score. Cordero was this time the architect, this time weaving his magic in the backline, rounding two defenders before releasing O’Flaherty, who was able to canter over unopposed for the converted score.
With both sides willing to attack at will, the ‘you score, we score’ nature of the contest continued as first Hill picked a lovely line through the heart of the Exeter midfield to score under the posts, while art the other end Devoto’s hard charge off the top of a line-out allowed England International Williams to power his way over from close range to make it 33-18 to the visitors.
Both sides emptied their benches in the final quarter and the introduction of Jono Lance at fly-half for the home side certainly gave them fresh direction. The Aussie was instrumental in their late fightback, which first yielded a score for Howe - finishing off in the right corner - and then for Pennell, who was given the loudest cheer of the day when he raced in under the sticks for the bonus point score.
Pennell’s score not only brought about the try bonus, but also a losing bonus point for the Warriors, who will be grateful of such reward given that relegation rivals Newcastle Falcons and Bristol Bears both won on their travels at Wasps and Northampton Saints respectively.
For the Chiefs, they now have a few days to recharge the batteries, after which it will be into the final run-in, all of which starts with the visit of local rivals Bath to Sandy Park on Sunday week.
Warriors: C Pennell; B Heem, F Venter (O Lawrence 17, J Lance 46-48), R Mills (capt), T Howe; D Weir (J Lance 53), F Hougaard; C Black (E Waller 58), N Annett (I Miller 63), N Schonert (G Milasinovich 58); A Bresler (P Phillips 68), M Fatialofa; T Hill, S Lewis, M Mama. Replacements (not used): M Cox, M Heaney.
Tries - Heem, Hill, Howe, Pennell; Conversions - Pennell (2); Penalties - Weir (2)
Chiefs: S Cordero; T O’Flaherty, I Whitten (S Hill 64), O Devoto, O Woodburn; G Steenson, J Maunder (N White 53); A Hepburn (B Keast 64), J Yeandle (capt, E Taione 55, A Hepburn 76), G Holmes (H Williams 58); D Dennis, J Hill (S Skinner 58); D Ewers, D Armand (S Lonsdale 65), M Kvesic (H Williams 55-58). Replacement (not used): J Simmonds
Tries - Cordero (2), Woodburn, O’Flaherty, Williams; Conversions - Steenson (4)
Yellow Card: Holmes
Referee: JP Doyle