Warriors 35 Chiefs 31

woody ww.jpg

Worcester Warriors 35

Exeter Chiefs 31

Mark Stevens at Sixways

Two points gained or two points lost?

Just how this result will decide Exeter’s seasonal fate will be spelt out in the coming weeks and months, but for now this loss on the road is certainly a bitter pill to swallow.

Rob Baxter’s Chiefs scored five tries in a game in which they topped almost all of themeaningful statistics, albeit the most important one, which was the end result.

Tries from Santiago Grondona, Tom O’Flaherty, Jack Innard, Max Norey and Dave Ewers would normally have been enough to ensure the Devonians headed back the M5 with the spoils, but hosts Worcester refused to lie down throughout, claiming maximum reward thanks in the main to a hat-trick of scores from winger Alex Hearle and one apiece from Noah Heward and replacement Harri Doel.

Fresh from a hard-fought victory over Sale Sharks the previous week, Baxter made four changes to his starting line-up for his side’s latest trip to the Midlands. Up front, Innard and Harry Williams were added to the front-row; Don Armand was recalled to the second-row; while Grondona got the nod at No.8. The sole change in the back division saw the in-form Josh Hodge take over at full-back with Stuart Hogg away on Test duty with Scotland.

The Warriors, meanwhile, also made a string of changes as they looked to recover from back-to-back losses to Harlequins and London Irish. Into their starting XV came Murray McCullum, Niall Annett, Graham Kitchener and former Chief, Matt Kvesic, in the pack; while behind Fin Smith, Morris and Hearle were also added to the attacking mix.

With conditions virtually perfect at Sixways, both sides quickly set their stall out in the opening exchanges. Attacking intent was clearly the order of the day as first the Chiefs, then the Warriors, went through a succession of phases in a bid to break the game’s deadlock.

Defences, however, were ruling the roost as every raid was repelled. However, it was on 15 minutes that the game had its major talking point. With Worcester No.8 Sione Vailanu on the charge, he was met by a forceful tackle by Exeter centre Tom Hendrickson on halfway. On first glance, it looked a dominant hit, but when the Tongan forward failed to get up off the ground, the officials wanted to have a second look.

Numerous replays of the incident were shown on the big screens, each of them met with an increased groan of disapproval from the home faithful, while at the same time referee Anthony Woodthorpe and TMO Tom Foley chatted through the whole incident in detail. Sadly, the outcome would not be favourable for Hendrickson, who was shown a first red in his senior career.

It took the Warriors less than a minute to make their numerical advantage pay. Having drilled the penalty deep into Exeter’s half, the hosts went off the top of a line-out, releasing Will Heinz who spotted a yawning gap in the Chiefs defence, before slipping in Hearle who was able to race in under the posts for the opening score converted by Smith.

Home cheers, however, would prove short-lived as the Chiefs roared back into the game within ten minutes. Sensing they had the edge up front, the visitors worked their way deep into the Worcester 22, eventually forging the opening for Grondona to power over from close range for his maiden score in Exeter colours.

Skipper Simmonds converted that score - and Exeter’s second - which arrived just five minutes later. Coming in field off a scrum wide on the left, the Chiefs worked through a handful of phases, the last of which saw Sam Maunder snipe for the line.

The scrum-half appeared destined to score by the posts, but Smith’s last-gasp tackle saw him dislodge the ball in the tackle. O’Flaherty, though, was close at hand and reacted quickest to pounce on the loose ball to score.

Such was the nature of the contest that Exeter’s lead was soon extinguished. Having conceded a needless penalty close to halfway, the Chiefs were again exposed when the hosts went off the top of the line-out, working the ball from right to left to Hearle, who unopposed was able to cruise over for a second score.

Smith could have given his side the lead at the turn, but his lengthy penalty chance drifted wide of the mark.


With little to choose between the sides at the turn, it was the Chiefs - now aided by a strong breeze at their backs - who again came out storming at the start of the second half.

In what was a heavy attacking onslaught, the Chiefs happily positioned themselves deep behind enemy lines with a brutal and physical opening salvo. However, just as they looked poised to pounce, Heward picked off a Sam Maunder pass to race from his own try-line to the other end for a third converted score.

It was another seminal moment in the contest, but the Chiefs were far from done. Baxter threw on fresh muscle in a bid to keep things lively and energetic - and the tactic had the desired effect as they reduced the deficit when Innard was able to burrow his way over for a third try from a well-drilled, catch-and-drive move.

Just two points adrift and seemingly with the ascendancy, the Chiefs looked as though they had the bit between their teeth as the game headed into its final quarter.

As they looked to push forward, though, they were rocked by a swift try double from the Warriors. Doel claimed the bonus point score, slaloming his way through some wishy-washy tackles before chipping over the top and winning the race to the line; before Hearle claimed his hat-trick score when he cut a lovely line through the heart of the Chiefs defence to score under the posts. Smith converted both tries to maintain his unblemished record for the game.

Up against it, the Chiefs needed to summon a response of sorts. Not only were they heavily adrift in terms of the scoreboard, but they were also facing up to the fact that they could well head down the road without any kind of reward.

Throwing caution to the wind, they continued to go through the phases, propelling themselves down field with two particularly impressive driving mauls. As the Warriors crumpled under the pressure, conceding yet another penalty, the Chiefs used the resultant set-piece to work the opening for Norey to claim his first-ever Premiership try.

That converted score ensured at least one losing bonus point, but the visitors were far from finished and with just four minutes remaining, they gave themselves further revival when Ewers got in on the scoring act, the hulking forward bulldozing his way over from another close-range, pick-and-go.

His score set up a grandstand finale, one which Chiefs fans hopes would emulate that of yesteryear when the Devonians won at the same venue with a late Sireli Naqelevuki score.

Sadly, this modern-day Worcester are more streetwise and they using the dying minutes to close out the contest, denying Exeter a victory which, given other results in the division, could have further boosted their play-off aspirations.

Warriors: N Heward; P Humphreys, O Morris, A Beck (H Doel 64), A Hearle; F Smith, W Heinz (G Simpson 69); M McCallum (K Owen 78), N Annett (I Miller 78), C Judge (J Owlett 78); J Batley (J Clegg 65), G Kitchener; T Hill (capt), M Kvesic, S Vailanu (J Forsythe 15). Replacements: B Searle.

Tries - Hearle (3), Heward, Doel; Conversions - Smith (5)

Chiefs: J Hodge; O Woodburn (F Cordero 69), I Whitten, T Hendrickson, T O’Flaherty (H Skinner 64); J Simmonds (capt), S Maunder (J Maunder 53); A Hepburn (J Kenny 61), J Innard (M Norey 69), H Williams (P Schickerling 53-71); J Kirsten, D Armand (W Witty 52); D Ewers, J Vermeulen, S Grondona (R Capstick 47).

Tries - Grondona, O’Flaherty, Innard, Norey, Ewers; Conversions - J Simmonds (3)

Red Card: Hendrickson

Referee: A Woodthorpe

Sign up to the Chiefs Newsletter

To receive a copy of the Exeter Chiefs Newsletter, please enter your email address below. You will then receive an email to confirm that you wish to receive it. You can unsubscribe at any time simply by following the link at the bottom of the email.