Rampant Gloucester leave Exeter’s hopes in tatters
Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter admitted his side had been “outplayed” by Gloucester as the Chiefs’ hopes of European glory were all but ended for another season.
The Chiefs went into this year’s Heineken Champions Cup tipped in some quarters to win the competition, but after a failure to triumph in any of their opening three pool games, their hopes lie in tatters.
Gloucester, on the other hand, are very well placed to make a real assault on a quarter-final place, if they can beat the Chiefs when they meet again at Kingsholm on Friday night.
“Credit to Gloucester, everyone knows Sandy Park is a difficult place to come and play, and the conditions were difficult, but individually and collectively, they outplayed us,” said Baxter.
“There were so many moments as coaches where we were asking: ‘What are we trying to achieve there?’ and the big question is whether, as a playing group, we can’t get our head around the Heineken Cup quite yet.
“We win things because we are a bit of a machine, and the cogs tend to run pretty smoothly, but it certainly didn’t feel like that for much of the game – our set-piece didn’t really function.”
Gloucester have a great record at Sandy Park, having now won three times and drawn once at the venue in the past five years, but it was still quite a turnaround from a fortnight ago when they lost 23-6 here in the Premiership.
Delighted head coach Johan Ackermann said: “Our patience was much better than two weeks ago, and today a few things went our way.
“We matched Exeter in the territory battle, which normally they win, and that was crucial for us. For the majority of the game our set-piece was good.”
The opening quarter was lit up by two tries of real quality.
Exeter struck first after a great tackle by England centre Henry Slade inside his own 22 and a fine counter-ruck. The ball was moved swiftly to the right, where Ollie Devoto and Santiago Cordero took play deep into Gloucester territory, before more good hands put Don Armand over for a try.
Eight minutes later, though, talented 22-year-old Gloucester winger Ollie Thorley gathered Matt Kvesic’s needless grubber kick and eluded two defenders on a sizzling run into the Exeter half. He was halted just short of the line by a superb tackle from Alex Cuthbert, but popped the ball up for impressive scrum-half and captain Willi Heinz to cross, with Danny Cipriani converting.
The rest of the half was dominated by monsoon-like conditions that made throwing in at line-outs and box-kicking almost impossible, producing a plethora of errors from both sides.
Gloucester came close to getting a try just past the half-hour mark, but Exeter lock Mitch Lees somehow managed to burgle possession from a close-range maul. They did, however, add to their tally right on the stroke of half-time with a Cipriani scrum penalty to give them a 10-5 interval lead.
Exeter made the perfect start to the second half with a try after only 70 seconds from Australian scrum-half Nic White, Gareth Steenson converting, but the Chiefs’ time in front was short-lived, with a Cipriani penalty restoring Gloucester’s advantage.
With Exeter’s line-out largely awful, and errors continuing to present possession to Gloucester, the visitors put the match out of reach with two tries in eight minutes by South Afri-
Winning feeling: Freddie Clarke (left) and Fraser Balmain celebrate Jaco Visagie’s try for Gloucester