Sam Simmonds helps rusty Exeter beat Gloucester to maintain perfect start

Rob Baxter admitted his Exeter team’s rustiness in their scrappy win over Gloucester was understandable. A Covid-19 outbreak within the Chiefs squad meant they were unable to face Toulouse in the Heineken Champions Cup last weekend and resulted in a longer-than-expected Christmas break.

The defending champions did eventually rally in front of a crowd of 2,000 home supporters to record a fourth straight bonus-point success, but were nowhere near their best, particularly in the first half.

Asked how much of a part Covid-19 had played in his team’s poor start, the Exeter director of rugby Baxter said: “I think pretty much all of it. The squad which played had never trained together before the game. It wasn’t a great performance. We talked about not getting too disappointed with mistakes and when we really had to dig in and score tries, we did.”

Gloucester dominated the early exchanges and could have taken the lead when they drove over the line only for the TMO, David Rose, to judge the ball had not been grounded. They did get their noses in front when the fly-half Lloyd Evans successfully kicked his second penalty attempt of the match.

Exeter were not all at sea but lacked their usual precision. Fortunately for them the visitors were unable to pull further clear and the Chiefs finally woke up after centre Ian Whitten was shown a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on. Captain Joe Simmonds went to the corner and although the try didn’t arrive initially, it was only a matter of time before the Scotland lock Jonny Gray crashed over and Joe Simmonds converted.

Evans’ second penalty with the last kick of the first half made it a one-point game at the interval. Once again Exeter didn’t help themselves as, after the full-back Stuart Hogg limped off, they failed to clear and end the half, allowing Gloucester to earn a shot at goal, which Evans duly converted.

Joe Simmonds spilled the ball with the line gaping immediately after the break but Exeter’s second try arrived soon enough. Joe Simmonds’ fine pass found Whitten and it was another outstanding short ball from the fly-half which sent Ollie Devoto over, with Joe Simmonds kicking the conversion.

Baxter had clearly given his team a deserved half-time rocket. Sam Simmonds scored their third try from another powerful lineout drive and all of a sudden the Chiefs were on a roll. Joe Simmonds converted and the search was on for the bonus point.

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At the other end heroic Exeter defence prevented a try for Ollie Thorley as Gloucester butchered a huge overlap. They did get one back through replacement scrum-half Toby Venner after neat back-line play in midfield from Mark Atkinson and although Evans converted, Gloucester still had too much to do.

Exeter’s crucial fourth try arrived when Sam Simmonds went over for his second close-range effort of the day and his brother Joe completed things from the tee. Gloucester had a chance to salvage a losing bonus point when Venner touched down for a second try on his Premiership debut only for Evans to miss the conversion with the game’s final kick.

Gloucester’s head coach, George Skivington, said: “The fact the boys are gutted shows a lot. We scored two tries here, which hasn’t been done for a while, and it could have been more.”


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