Exeter closes in on top spot; Quins run riot
PREMIERSHIP WRAP: Exeter Chiefs closed the gap on Premiership leaders Bristol Bears with a seven-try victory over visiting Leicester Tigers.
In other Saturday matches Harlequins were in fine form and ran in nine tries to claim a 59-24 victory over West Country outfit Gloucester.
Meanwhile Worcester’s miserable run of form continued as they were blown away in the first half by a rampant Bath on their way to suffering a 47-22 defeat at the Rec.
Harlequins 59-24 Gloucester
Harlequins were in fine form and high spirits this weekend as the men in the famous Quarters ran in nine tries to claim a 59-24 victory over West Country outfit Gloucester.
Quins got off to a strong start, with outside centre Luke Northmore running in the first of Quins’ scores down the left touchline. Marcus Smith missed his first conversion attempt of the day, but Quins were into the lead at home.
Quins struck for a second time soon after. After a series of short-range efforts at Gloucester’s door, Quins shifted the ball out to find Brown who muscled his way past two defenders to become the first person non-kicking player in Quins’ history to score 500 points for the Club. Smith made no mistake with the conversion this time.
Harlequins’ spirits were up as the side looked like racking up a serious points tally, with subsequent tries for Murley and scrumhalf Danny Care securing a first-half bonus-point within 25 minutes.
However, despite the scoreboard heavily building against them, Gloucester displayed steely determination to test the home side. The visitors claimed scores either side of half-time to first reduce Quins’ score to seven points, and then bring the scoreboard level at 24-points apiece as scrumhalf Charlie Chapman pounced on a loose Quins ball to race in under the posts. Once flyhalf George Barton added his third conversion of the day, Quins found themselves in a scrappy game with an early lead fast slipping away with less than half an hour to play.
With the flow of play against them, the Harlequins coaching team opted to make a full front row change, bringing on an entire international trio in Joe Marler, Scott Baldwin and Wilco Louw. A change in the backrow soon followed, with Tom Lawday replacing James Chisholm on the blindside.
The changes proved profitable, with Care running in a second score soon after number eight Alex Dombrandt scooped up loose Gloucester possession, with Northmore the man to break through the Gloucester defence before feeding back to Care to claim Quins’ fifth. Smith added the conversion to take his side back into the lead, with a seven-point advantage.
Harlequins seemed back in high spirits and in scoring mood once more as reinforcements set the foundations. The Club’s sixth try came through right wing Tyrone Green this time, with the razor-sharp outside back benefitting from a neat Andre Esterhuizen offload to sprint up the pitch and dance inside the Gloucester defenders to help secure Harlequins’ comeback. Smith added another conversion to his personal points tally to bring Quins just short of 40 points, at 38-24 to the hosts.
Gloucester were struck a further blow twelve minutes from time as inside centre Matt Banahan was handed a red card for a high hit on Green as the wing looked to dart towards the line from five metres out. After receiving medical treatment, having been knocked out in the tackle attempt, Banahan was able to walk himself to the touchline unassisted. A positive sight to see after a nasty clash of heads.
Quins were quick to jump on their one-man advantage, with Dombrandt picking the ball from the back of Harlequins’ scrum that drove itself to Gloucester’s line to dot down for the home side’s seventh of the day. Smith added the conversion to take Quins’ tally to 45 with 70 minutes played.
The London team continued to push the visitors as Northmore and Dombrandt each claimed braces in the final ten minutes. Once reserve flyhalf Brett Herron added the final two conversions, Quins claimed 59 points to Gloucester’s 24, with the Mighty Quins back to winning ways, further securing their third-place spot in the Premiership. Next up, first-placed Bristol Bears at Ashton Gate Stadium.
Tries: Northmore 2, Brown, Murley, Care 2, Green, Dombrandt 2
Cons: Smith 4, Herron 3
Tries: Chapman 2, Clarke
Cons: Barton 3
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Tyrone Green, 13 Luke Northmore, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Cadan Murley, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Danny Care, 8 Alex Dombrandt (captain), 7 Will Evans, 6 James Chisholm, 5 Dino Lamb, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Simon Kerrod, 2 Joe Gray, 1 Jordan Els
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Glen Young, 20 Tom Lawday, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Brett Herron, 23 Ben Tapuai
Gloucester: 15 Charlie Sharples, 14 Tom Seabrook, 13 Henry Trinder, 12 Matt Banahan, 11 Jacob Morris, 10 George Barton, 9 Charlie Chapman, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Jack Clement, 6 Freddie Clarke, 5 Oliver Atkins, 4 Matt Garvey (captain), 3 Fraser Balmain, 2 Ethan Hunt, 1 Val Rapava-Ruskin
Replacements: 16 Todd Gleave, 17 Alex Seville, 18 Jamal Ford-Robinson, 19 Freddie Thomas, 20 Joe Howard, 21 Matty Jones, 22 Isaac Marsh, 23 Alex Morgan
Referee: Ian Tempest
Assistant referees: George Selwood, Jonathan Healy
TMO: Nigel Carrick
Bath 47-22 Worcester Warriors
Worcester’s miserable run of form continued as they were blown away in the first half by a rampant Bath on their way to suffering a 47-22 defeat at the Rec.
The Warriors trailed 40-0 at the break and have now lost their last 14 games on the pitch, with their only two victories since their opening-day win over London Irish being walkovers following COVID-19 cancellations.
The heavy defeat was hardly unexpected as Worcester fielded an understrength side with nine changes in their starting line-up from last week’s committed but losing performance at London Irish.
Bath took full advantage to win their fifth game in their last six Premiership starts. Will Muir and Tom Dunn each scored two tries, with Zach Mercer, Ben Spencer and Max Clark also on the try-scoring sheet. Rhys Priestland added five conversions and Orlando Bailey one.
Joe Batley and Perry Humphreys scored two tries for Worcester with Ethan Waller and Joe Batley also crossing while Fin Smith added a conversion.
It took just 80 seconds for Bath to open the scoring. An early penalty took them into the opposition 22 from where Dunn burst away before a long pass from Priestland sent Muir over for his first Premiership try.
Priestland missed the touchline conversion, his first miss since November 21, and it brought to an end his Premiership record run of 36 consecutive successful kicks.
However, the Welsh flyhalf was soon back on target by converting a close-range try from Dunn as Worcester continued their miserable start.
Warriors’ woes were unrelenting as they soon conceded a third try. Fin Smith’s clearance was charged down by Ben Spencer and, from the resulting line-out, Mercer finished off the drive.
Bath picked up their bonus-point try after only 25 minutes when they moved the ball from inside their own half to give Muir the chance to finish in style for his second.
A fifth try soon followed when Ruaridh McConnochie brushed aside some weak tackling to power down the right flank before providing Spencer with the scoring pass.
Bath’s scoring spree took a temporary breather but they extended their lead to 40-0 when Clark took advantage of a favourable bounce to score.
Within two minutes of the restart, Worcester picked up their first try when Batley charged down Priestland’s kick to pick up and score, with the provider then departing the field having been injured in the collision.
Warriors appeared rejuvenated and soon scored a second when they produced their best move of the match, with Chris Ashton sending Humphreys over.
Back came Bath to score their seventh as Dunn forced his way over for his second, but Worcester were a totally different proposition in the second half and was rewarded with a second try from Humphreys and another from Waller to earn a losing bonus point.
Tries: Muir 2, Dunn 2, Mercer, Spencer, Clark
Cons: Priestland 5, Bailey
For Worcester Warriors
Tries: Batley, Humphreys 2, Waller
Bath: 15 Tom de Glanville, 14 Ruaridh McConnochie, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Max Clark, 11 Will Muir, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Ben Spencer, 8 Zach Mercer, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Miles Reid, 5 Elliott Stooke, 4 Josh McNally (captain), 3 Henry Thomas, 2 Tom Dunn, 1 Juan Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Jack Walker, 17 Arthur Cordwell, 18 Christian Judge, 19 Tom Ellis, 20 Ethan Staddon, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Orlando Bailey, 23 Joe Cokanasiga
Worcester Warriors: 15 Nick David, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Oli Morris, 12 Will Butler, 11 Perry Humphreys, 10 Fin Smith, 9 Gareth Simpson, 8 Tom Dodd, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Ted Hill (captain), 5 Joe Batley, 4 Andrew Kitchener, 3 Joe Morris, 2 Isaac Miller, 1 Marc Thomas
Replacements: 16 Niall Annett, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Maks van Dyk, 19 Justin Clegg, 20 Cornell du Preez, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Billy Searle, 23 Francois Venter
Referee: Adam Leal
Assistant referees: Greg Macdonald, Gareth Holsgrove
TMO: Stuart Terheege
Exeter Chiefs 47-31 Leicester Tigers
This didn’t end up quite the canter it looked as though it was going to be after 30 minutes, but Exeter Chiefs were able to close the gap on Premiership leaders Bristol Bears with this seven-try victory over visiting Leicester Tigers.
For so long the main frontrunners in English Rugby’s top flight, these days Leicester have sadly slipped into the bracket of Premiership also-rans. In their place, the Chiefs have galloped ahead of them, winning not only two Premiership titles, but also a European crown as well.
This season, Rob Baxter’s defending champions are continuing to set a fast pace at the summit, claiming their 10th league win of the campaign and inflicting yet another loss on Steve Borthwick’s Tigers, who had arrived in Devon fresh off the back of their first away league win in almost two years at Gloucester last time out.
However, the visitors – who had made wholesale changes to their starting line-up – were unable to handle a blistering opening from the Chiefs, who had clearly heeded the words of Baxter and the need to come out all guns blazing.
Jack Innard, Sam Simmonds and Jacques Vermeulen all threatened early on, before the Chiefs finally made their breakthrough with 11 minutes on the clock. A penalty into the corner set-up a five-metre line-out, which Innard threw long to Ollie Devoto. The England international collected on the burst, made decent inroads, before Dave Ewers and Vermeulen took up the charge.
Although the Tigers did well to repel the double threat of Exeter’s African-born bulls, they could do little to thwart prop Harry Williams from burrowing over for the opening try, which Joe Simmonds converted with ease.
It was the ideal start for the Chiefs, who were then given a numerical advantage just moments later when Leicester lost Kobus Van Wyk to a red card. Following up on a kick deep into the Exeter half, the winger became the latest addition to the Premiership’s rising list of bad-boys, as the officials adjudged the South African to have hit Jack Maunder with a high shoulder to the head.
Almost immediately the Chiefs came within a whisker of claiming a second try through Olly Woodburn, but the Exeter winger was denied by a great cover tackle from Tigers centre Matt Scott.
Still with the bit between their teeth, though, the hosts continued to pile forward in numbers. Indeed, with 20 minutes on the clock, their territory and possession stats were already in the 80s, and it came as no surprise when they added a second through Tom O’Flaherty.
Ewers and Sam Simmonds laid the foundations with some heavyweight carries, before the home backs took charge, working the opening for the London-born speedster to arc his way round the Leicester defensive line and trot over for his fourth of the season.
Skipper Joe Simmonds added the extras to that score and Exeter’s third, which arrived just before the half-hour mark. With Dan Kelly sent to the sidelines for a ten-minute stint following a blatant professional foul, Maunder used the resultant penalty to tap quickly to Ewers, who propelled his way over from close range.
Already it was looking ominous for the Tigers, whose last victory at Sandy Park came way back in 2014. The Chiefs, though, were in no mood for letting up and they had the all-important bonus point in the bag just minutes later when Sam Simmonds, Exeter’s prized thoroughbred, opened his stride to race down the left flank, before slipping a sublime offload inside to Harvey Skinner, who waltzed over for his maiden Premiership try.
Four tries safely secured, the Chiefs were seemingly romping towards a heavy scoreline. Leicester, though, had other ideas and – to their credit – they regrouped well in the ten minutes before the break to claim two tries of heir own.
Skipper Hanro Liebenberg was the creator for their first, picking up from the base of a scrum before producing some nifty footwork that would have been more akin to Strictly, rather than the Sandy Park turf. The South African, though, did well and when he offloaded to team-mate Freddie Steward, the full-back darted towards the line, only to be halted by a last-gasp tackle from O’Flaherty.
In the ensuing follow-up, the Chiefs were unable to scramble sufficiently and it was the Tigers who used a quick tap penalty to work the opening for Argentinian lock Tomas Lavanini to cross for the score, converted by Zack Henry.
Then, with the last action of the half, a soft penalty award against the Chiefs allowed Henry to once more pin his side back into the home 22. This time, the visitors used the set-piece to rumble to within sight of the line, before scrumhalf Jack Van Poortvliet took charge, selling an audacious dummy to dive over for the score.
The late resistance had given the Tigers a glimmer of hope as the second half got back underway, but that was soon doused within three minutes as the Chiefs came out firing once again. Hard-running from Devoto, then Maunder, got Baxter’s side on the front foot and with advantage in their hands, it was Joe Simmonds’ clever chip kick over the top that was gobbled up by older brother Sam, who was able to touchdown for his 14th try of the season.
Seemingly with only pride to play for, Borthwick’s Tigers threw caution to the wind. Indeed, using a penalty advantage of their own, they worked their way through a catalogue of attacking phases deep inside the Chiefs half, before the ball was worked out to Scottish international Scott, who skipped his way through a gap in the home defence for the try, converted by replacement Jonny McPhillips.
Again, though, the home response was quick and emphatic as they added a sixth score. Fullback Facundo Cordero set the tone, hot-stepping his way through a clutch of tackles, before the ball was worked back inside through a plethora of different hands, Ewers eventually providing the scoring pass for Olly Woodburn to cross in the corner.
The new dad celebrated in style, cupping his arms in a baby-swinging motion, in a dedication aimed towards his son Solomon.
Fresh faces from the bench were added by the visitors and that new injection of on-field life had the desired effect as they hit back with two more tries. Hooker Charlie Clare was the first over from a well-drilled, catch-and-drive move; then Liebenberg added a fifth when he latched onto a loose ball to charge down the right wing and score.
Suddenly, Exeter had gone from cruise control into panic mode with just nine points now separating the two teams. The Tigers were all of a sudden energised and very much in the contest. The Chiefs, on the other hand, had gone quiet and in desperate need of a pick-me-up.
However, the sight of Cordero being binned for a deliberate knock-on did little to ease home concerns as the game headed into the final ten minutes.
Thankfully, the Chiefs were able to swallow the loss of their Argentine flyer, turning defence into attack masterfully, and working the opening for Vermeulen to crash over in the right corner. Simmonds banged over the testing touchline conversion to ensure his side were able to cruise down the final furlong with relative ease.
For Exeter Chiefs
Tries: Williams, O’Flaherty, Ewers, Skinner, Simmonds, Woodburn, Vermeulen
Cons: Simmonds 6
For Leicester Tigers
Tries: Lavanini, Van Poortvliet, Scott, Clare, Liebenberg
Cons: Henry, McPhillips 2
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Facundo Cordero, 14 Olly Woodburn, 13 Harvey Skinner, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 Tom O’Flaherty, 10 Joe Simmonds (captain), 9 Jack Maunder, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Sean Lonsdale, 4 Jannes Kirsten, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Jack Innard, 1 Ben Moon
Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Marcus Street, 19 Don Armand, 20 Richard Capstick, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Dan John, 23 Josh Hodge
Leicester Tigers: 15 Freddie Steward, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Matt Scott, 12 Dan Kelly, 11 Guy Porter, 10 Zack Henry, 9 Jack van Poortvliet, 8 Hanro Liebenberg (captain), 7 Tommy Reffell, 6 Cyle Brink, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Cameron Henderson, 3 Joe Heyes, 2 Charlie Clare, 1 Nephi Leatigaga
Replacements: 16 Jake Kerr, 17 James Whitcombe, 18 Luan de Bruin, 19 Harry Wells, 20 Luke Wallace, 21 Ben White, 22 Johnny McPhillips, 23 Harry Potter
Referee: Jack Makepeace
Assistant referees: Phil Watters, Rob Warburton
TMO: Keith Lewis
Sources: @ExeterChiefs, @Harlequins & PA