Exeter Chiefs continued their fine start to the Aviva Premiership with an excellent 44-24 win over London Irish at Sandy Park on Saturday afternoon.
Coming into the match off a disappointing away loss to Newcastle Falcons last weekend, Exeter were determined to set things right, and were aided by the return of England winger Jack Nowell, centre Sam Hill and prop Carl Rimmer to the side.
The Chiefs started the game well, with some aggressive rucking and strong tackling from the backs, and found themselves ahead after Irish were penalized for offside. Gareth Steenson, who went on to have a fine game for the home side, slotted the kick to put Exeter 3-0 up after nine minutes of the match.
The scores were leveled shortly after by Shane Geraghty, who converted a penalty after the Chiefs pack failed to roll away at a ruck.
However, this was as good as it got for the away side in the first half. A sloppy lineout from inside their own 22 gifted Exeter possession, and Carl Rimmer took advantage to plough through the Irish backline and score the first try of the game on 17 minutes. After a brief stoppage to consult the footage, the referee awarded the try and Steenson converted to make the score 10-3.
It wasn’t long before the Chiefs’ fans were celebrating again. Some flat defending, coupled with a darting run from Exeter centre Henry Slade meant the former University student was able to touch the ball down right between the posts, enabling Steenson to convert easily.
Slade, who has been widely touted for an England call up, will have done his chances no harm here, a third try in as many games capping an excellent display from the Chiefs centre.
The Exeter forwards were dominating in the scums, consistently putting the Irish pack on the back foot. Two collapses enabled Exeter to further extend their lead, and with just seven minutes in the half the score stood at 23-3.
On the cusp of half-time, Exeter got their third try of the match. Some superb forward play down the wing enabled Nowell to break free, who executed a perfect offload for Damian Welsh to crash over the line. Steenson made no mistake again with the kick, and the home side went in 30-3 up at the break.
London Irish rung the changes, bringing on Blair Cowan, Daniel Leo and James Short for the start of the second half. This did little, however, to stop Exeter’s domination.
Some more excellent wing play from Nowell down the right enabled the break through, and it was Welsh who benefitted again, scoring his second try of the match and securing the four try bonus point.
Less than two minutes later and Exeter had scored again. Nowell, who was having an outstanding game, blitzed through the visitors defense to offload for Don Armand, and the Exeter flanker barreled the ball over the line. Steenson kept up his 100% kicking record to put Exeter 44-3 up.
London Irish were to be further punished, though, as hooker David Plaice was sin binned after cycnically shoving over Hayden Thomas, leaving the visitors a man-light.
Somewhat understandably, the home side stepped off the gas a little in the closing stages and after 70 minutes Irish scored their first try of the match. A poor line out handed Irish forward Blair Cowan the chance to score, and Geraghty converted.
Another breakaway try from Andrew Fenby and one more from Cowan in the game’s last play meant a final score of 44-24, a scoreline which flattered the visitors a little.
On the whole, though, this was an excellent and disciplined performance from Exeter Chiefs, and one which secures their status in the top four of the Premiership heading into next week’s European fixtures.