Exeter cement top spot
PREMIERSHIP REPORT: Harry Williams’ second-half score proved the difference as Exeter Chiefs kept themselves top of the Premiership Rugby table with a narrow 17-15 victory over Harlequins.
After racing out of the blocks and going over twice in the opening 11 minutes through Ollie Devoto and Nic White, the visitors roared back and gave as good as they got throughout but Rob Baxter’s troops held their nerve to stay top of the tree.
It took less than two minutes for Exeter to raise the roof off Sandy Park, Dave Ewers darting through the Harlequins line and then drawing the attention of two men before picking out Devoto to finish off the score, Joe Simmonds adding the extras.
Soon afterwards, they stretched their lead to 12-0, a sweeping, relentless 27-phase offensive ending with White sneaking over from close-range.
The visitors did their best to battle back and began to make gains upfield but most of their attacking moves ended with the ball being picked off by a black shirt at the vital moment.
Harlequins did finally get themselves on the scoresheet just before the break, however, Marcus Smith slotting away a simple penalty.
Early in the second half, the Chiefs rampaged down Harlequins’ right flank, and after White was held up just shy of the try-line, prop Williams crashed over to make it 17-3.
In the blink of an eye, the visitors very nearly hit back with their first try of the match as Elia Elia pounced on hesitation in the Exeter ranks, hacking the ball forward with his boot before then attempting to apply the finishing touch but the Chiefs defence narrowly dealt with the danger.
Just past the hour mark, Harlequins did finally score a try, with Sam Hidalgo-Clyne scoring at the base of the posts after recycling the ball from Joe Marler’s dive at the line, Smith converting to bring them to slash the deficit to seven points.
And the visitors teed up a grandstand finish shortly afterwards as Hidalgo-Clyne’s clever kick led to Alofa Alofa and Smith combining to send Charlie Walker over, although the try was unconverted and Exeter still led narrowly.
With less than five minutes to go, Smith had the chance to kick for goal and steal victory but saw his effort skew narrowly wide of the posts in difficult conditions.
For Exeter Chiefs:
Tries: Devoto, White, Williams
Tries: Hidalgo-Clyne, Walker
Yellow card: Ben Moon (Exeter CHiefs, 60)
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Tom O’Flaherty, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Joe Simmonds, 9 Nic White, 8 Matt Kvesic, 7 Sean Lonsdale, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Dave Dennis, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Jack Yeandle (captain), 1 Alec Hepburn
Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Ollie Atkins, 20 Richard Capstick, 21 Jack Maunder, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Sam Hill
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Charlie Walker, 13 Alofa Alofa, 12 Francis Saili, 11 Ross Chisholm, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 8 Alex Dombrandt, 7 Chris Robshaw (Captain), 6 Jack Clifford, 5 Stan South, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Rob Buchanan, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Elia Elia, 17 Nick Auterac, 18 Phil Swainston, 19 George Merrick, 20 Semi Kunatani, 21 Niall Saunders, 22 James Lang, 23 Gabriel Ibitoye
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Assistant Referees: Adam Leal & Phil Watters.
TMO: Geoff Warren.