Exeter Chiefs 25 Gloucester 24
Whilst many of Exeter Chiefs’ golden generation may have departed last summer for pastures new, one golden gem remains in place at Sandy Park.
Disregarded by England head coach Steve Borthwick for this summer’s Rugby World Cup, Henry Slade has made it his mission to not only prove his doubters wrong, but at the same time help nurture the club’s new kids on the block.
With time all but up and his club staring down the barrel of a potential first defeat on home soil in over a year, Exeter’s very own Rolls Royce purred into overdrive, plundering a knockout blow that floored Gloucester and condemned the visitors to a fourth successive Gallagher Premiership defeat.
Often front and centre for many of Exeter’s biggest success stories in recent years, never has the 30-year-old been more pivotal to the fortunes of the Chiefs. His worth to the club is unmeasured and you can bet your bottom dollar Director of Rugby, Rob Baxter, is already crunching the numbers to ensure his prized asset remains in place for the foreseeable future.
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“Henry is offering an awful lot,” said Baxter. “I’m watching him train and play now with energy that I always used to watch him train and play with. I kind of think he’s been one of those guys who has been playing with an awful lot of weight on his shoulders these last couple of seasons.
“You can see now he’s a bit free of that and it’s bringing the best out of him and all those around him. On top of that, he’s the guy who is going to hold his nerve in those pressure moments because he’s been there and done it. It’s not just the penalty kick, but the conversion before that he had to get, and together with Joe Hawkins in the centre alongside him, they’ve been the defining difference in the two sides today.”
Just as they had done in previous home fixtures this term, the Chiefs were quickly into their attacking stride. Making the most of an early yellow card for Gloucester No.8 Clement, the Devonians saw skipper Jenkins held up over the line, before they finally made their breakthrough on ten minutes.
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Using the solidity of their much-improved scrum, Tom Cairns sniped bravely from the base, before Tuima, the Fijian-born force in the second row, bundled his way over for the opening score.
Tuima’s joy, however, would prove somewhat short-lived as he would tread the same path to the naughty step as that of Clement as he was singled out for a high hit on Gloucester hooker George McGuigan.
In his absence, his fellow Chiefs did their best to plug the hole he had vacated in the heart of the Exeter engine room. Indeed, for much of his stint in the cooler, they masterfully did the job with aplomb, before a burst from Louis Rees-Zammit, then a clever decoy run from Chris Harris, paved the way for Clement to gallop his way through a yawning great gap in the home defence.
With parity restored, the home side clicked back into gear with Slade the ‘Chief Conductor’. It was his hot-stepping in midfield that saw him glide clear of the cover, before he shipped the ball back inside for skipper Dafydd Jenkins to claim his maiden top-flight score.
Up against the scoreboard and a howling downfield wind, Gloucester were much improved after the break. Whereas much of their attacking endeavours were hindered during the first period, now things were starting to stick much better.
As the pressure started to mount on the Chiefs, so the Cherry and Whites looked to make hay. Ollie Thorley instigated the initial threat in the build-up to their second try, charging hard at the Exeter back division, before clever work from Seb Atkinson and Santi Carreras created the opening for Thorley to thunder over.
Slade punted his side back into the lead shortly after with a routine penalty, only for the visitors to counter to good effect, hitting their rivals with a ferocious ‘one-two’ that secured them the all-important bonus point.
Rees-Zammit side-stepped his way over for the first of those scores in the right-hand corner, before Atkinson got in on the act, finishing off hefty carries from the Argentinian pairing of Santiago Socino and Matias Alemanno.
Down by nine and with as many minutes left on the clock, the Chiefs needed to rally their resources. Spurred on by their supporters, they did just this, Stu Townsend taking to the air to dive his way over for a vital score. Slade plundered the conversion under pressure, before adding the coupe de grace in the final minute, stepping forward to land a match-winning penalty from just inside the opposition half.
It was ‘Balls of Steel’ stuff from the Plymouth-born playmaker, but underlined his undoubted worth to the Exeter cause.
Scoring sequence: 5-0 Tuima Try, 7-0 Slade Conversion, 7-5 Clement Try, 7-7 Barton Conversion, 12-7 Jenkins Try, 12-12 Thorley Try, 15-12 Slade Pen, 15-17 Rees-Zammit Try, 15-19 Barton Con, 15-24 Atkinson Try, 20-24 Townsend Try, 22-24 Slade Con, 25-24 Slade Pen
Exeter Chiefs: T Wyatt; I Feyi-Waboso, H Slade, J Hawkins, B Hammersley (O Woodburn 63, W Haydon-Wood 66); H Skinner, T Cairns (S Townsend 62); S Sio (N Abuladze 52), J Yeandle (D Frost 52), E Painter (J Iosefa-Scott 52); R Tuima (L Pearson 62), D Jenkins (c); E Roots (R Vintcent 65), J Vermeulen A Davis.
Yellow Card: Tuima
Gloucester Rugby: S Carreras; L Rees-Zammit, C Harris, S Atkinson, O Thorley; G Barton, M Young (S Varney 63); M Vivas (H Elrington 56), G McGuigan (S Socino 56), F Balmain (C Knight 56); F Clarke, M Alemanno; A Tuisue (F Thomas 18), L Ludlow (c), J Clement. Replacements (not used): A Clark, M Atkinson, L Hillman-Cooper.
Yellow Card: Clement
Referee: I Tempest
Baxter refutes Chiefs financial fears
Exeter Chiefs Director of Rugby, Rob Baxter, played down fears the Gallagher Premiership outfit are struggling financially.
Reports on Sunday highlighted concerns at the Devon club after it emerged the Chiefs playing squad had received a delayed payment to their wages last month.
Baxter said: “There is no secret to what happened, the annoying thing – and this is the way of the rugby world at the moment – is how it all got out. The players weren’t paid a day late, they were paid on the same morning as they should have been.
“The reality is we have an automated system that gets put to a bank with all the details of the payroll. That normally drops into the players’ back account some time just after midnight on the day of the month that they get paid on.
“It hadn’t been paid by eight o’clock that morning, I was made aware of that, so I contacted the accounts department here. They were already aware of the problem and in contact with the bank. Quite simply, someone had entered an error into the account name or number, which meant it didn’t happen automatically.
“As soon as that was changed, they were all paid by 10am. The problem is in that period of time someone has texted someone else and said ‘have you been paid, have I got paid’ and some journalist has got hold of it.”
Baxter added: “The club are actually looking into the scenario that if people are making a big issue out of it in a false way and it costs us anything financially, the club are looking into the legal side of things because ultimately everyone has been paid on the correct day of the month and there seem to be a couple of stories knocking around making a bit more about it than that. If that makes us lose sponsors, there is a financial situation there.”
Premiership Rugby has been rocked in the past month by the loss of London Irish, Wasps and Worcester Warriors due to financial issues. The loss of another club would be seen by many as a catastrophe, so Baxter latest comments will help ease come concerns about the modern game.
“For me, there is no story other than three other clubs have gone bankrupt recently, that is what makes it a story,” he said. “The only reason it has ever come out is because someone had a bit of a panic at some stage about not being paid.
“We, like a lot of other clubs, have got guys here who have been at clubs who have gone bankrupt and they probably had the same story when they were not paid. I was sat in the team meeting and said to the lads ‘you’re all going to get paid in the next few hours’ and before end of the meeting they were paid.”