Scrum-half Will Chudley was instrumental in an emphatic 41-27 victory for Exeter Chiefs over Wasps on Saturday evening. We take a closer look at one of the Aviva Premiership's most underrated players.
In April, Exeter Chiefs and Wasps met on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Coventry and played out a topsy-turvy encounter that was won at the death by a stunning Joe Simpson try.
Icy cool Gareth Steenson salvaged a losing bonus point for the visitors with a last-gasp drop-goal but the result was a significant sucker-punch in terms of their title hopes. Though Exeter promptly turned over Saracens at Allianz Park the next weekend, they missed out on the play-offs.
Rob Baxter‘s charges place great onus on season-by-season improvement, so this Saturday would have felt extremely satisfying – bar a suspected broken leg sustained by the outstanding Henry Slade.
Back in the West Midlands, Chiefs had four tries shortly after half an hour and ended with seven against a defence that had shipped two in their four previous fixtures. While Wasps mounted a resurgence to reach 27-27 in the second period, a domineering pack performance paved the way for a fantastic Exeter victory.
Behind the forwards, Will Chudley gave another display of understated excellence. Having represented England Students during his time at Loughborough University, he was brought to Sandy Park three years ago in a typically astute Baxter signing following stints at Bedford and Newcastle.
Since then, immense consistency and commitment have seen him rise steadily. Presently, Chudley is one of the very best in his position across this league. Here is how he inspired a truly emphatic win.
Chiefs began the game by exerting huge pressure on their hosts, Tom Johnson stealing possession to foreshadow a 23-phase attack. From the off, Chudley probed the defensive line in front of him.
These three consecutive phases demonstrate how he manipulated tacklers and unleashed Exeter runners. We begin as Chudley crabs into midfield from a ruck inside the Wasps 22. Watch Lorenzo Cittadini and James Gaskell. Neither inject line-speed because they are concerned about the scrum-half’s running threat:
As a result, Chudley can send up Geoff Parling against a rather passive defence. No 8 Thomas Waldrom, who ended this clash with a hat-trick, and prop Ben Moon line up on either shoulder of their lock in an arrowhead formation – set either to take a short pass or resource the ensuing breakdown:
Parling carries hard and Chudley is on the spot:
Another couple of steps to the right hold Cittadini again before Chudley sends a long pass to full-back Phil Dollman. Looking to shut down space, George Smith shoots up. He disconnects from Cittadini, creating a ‘dogleg’:
A step off his right foot takes Dollman past Smith and over the gain-line:
With Steenson (circled) calling the shots, Chudley then plays in Waldrom, who is surrounded by supporting forwards:
However, Smith resists the clear-out and manages to disrupt:
Reacting rapidly, Chudley dives in to move the Australian openside off the ball:
His quick thinking allows Exeter to retain the ball. Jack Nowell steps into the scrum-half role and the attack continues:
Minutes later, Chudley showed similarly shrewd awareness in a defensive capacity.
Positioning and persistence
All game, Exeter managed territory with accurate authority. After a Steenson penalty had put Chiefs 3-0 ahead, Chudley passed back to Dollman, who cleared downfield.
This slideshow depicts how Dollman chases his own kick (running past Chudley, who is circled) and follows up into the primary defensive line as Charles Piutau counters:
Wasps remain on the front foot though, and locate some space on the right flank a couple of phases later.
This next sequence shows how Chudley, adopting Dollman’s role in back-field, covers across to field a grubber from Sailosi Tagicakibau before sending the ball down-town:
As a squad, Exeter ooze energy and industry. Epitomising both of these qualities, Chudley hares in pursuit of his own kick.
Though Jimmy Gopperth and Ben Jacobs combine to manufacture some room for Elliot Daly, the Chiefs nine arcs back on himself to make a robust tackle:
Of course, organisation and communication are two crucial attributes for any scrum-half. Both came to the fore as the visitors went over for their opening try.
Baxter has a fine lieutenant in Rob Hunter and Exeter’s lineout maul proved a potent weapon, splintering Wasps on numerous occasions. This first five-pointer required power and cohesion from the throw of skipper Jack Yeandle to the finish of Waldrom via Damian Welch‘s take, but Chudley’s nous also contributed:
Battling through, Wasps Bradley Davies threatens to derail things entirely. While referee Greg Garner insists the Wales international lock is legal, Chudley incites a peel to the right:
A reverse angle is insightful:
And as the footage runs through, Chudley’s role is obvious:
Sporting sages say a team is most vulnerable immediately after they have scored. Chudley ensured complacency did not creep in.
These days, a great deal of time and training are invested in collecting restarts and getting back into the opposition half. Following their opening try, Exeter executed this skill with sharp efficiency.
The slideshow below captures a secure take from wing James Short and a pinpoint, contestable box-kick from Chudley. Slade is able to tear after it and tackle Guy Thompson. Johnson can swoop in to compete on the deck and, all of a sudden, Wasps are in a scrap to keep the ball:
A Gopperth penalty reduced Exeter’s advantage to 8-3, but Chiefs were soon over the line once more.
Watching players pull off a set move probably ranks among the most gratifying experiences for a coach, so Baxter and co. would have been purring at this second try.
With a 25-metre blindside, Exeter bounce back to devastating effect:
Examining the pattern step by step, we can appreciate how central Chudley is to an intricate strike move. First, as Slade and Nowell edge back towards the right-hand touchline, he flicks out a pass to Johnson…
…before receiving a return on the loop. Taking the ball flat, Johnson attracts two defenders:
Garner awarded the try without consulting the television match official. This was somewhat fortunate for Chiefs because Mitchell Lees slightly mistimes his decoy line here.
Chudley runs behind his back-rower for a split-second, meaning Exeter could easily have been penalised for crossing:
In the absence of a whistle though, there is a simple three-on-two. Chudley draws opposite number Dan Robson…
…and Slade assists Nowell:
At this stage, Exeter were rampant and did not need to wait long for a third try.
There was a training ground feel to this next score, Wasps failing to derail another drive:
Despite rumbling towards the whitewash initially, the maul appears to lose momentum momentarily. At this point, Chudley calls runners onto the blindside.
Robson responds, hauling across his wing Frank Halai and Thompson. Ashley Johnson also pulls himself out of the maul:
Purposefully or otherwise, Chudley has coaxed a couple of Wasps bodies away from the defensive effort. Chiefs spin the opposite way, regather impetus and crash over.
Fittingly, Chudley ended the first period with a characteristic piece of unglamorous graft.
Chudley’s back-field coverage is highlighted earlier in this piece and, just before the break, more positional anticipation helped his side recover from a potentially tricky situation.
This time, he must initially press into the primary defensive line because when Robson turns to find his fly-half, Wasps have six runners in the wide left channel. As soon as Gopperth shapes to kick though, Chudley turns to sprint after the ball.
Seemingly chasing a lost cause, he perseveres and is able to reel it in a metre or so from the right touchline before passing to Dollman, who clears. The slideshow below tracks Chudley’s movement and emphasises his application:
Three tries either side of the interval catapulted Wasps back into the contest, but Exeter rode the storm to make it 34-27 thanks to Waldrom’s third. Then came a crucial box-kick from Chudley that allowed Chiefs to retain the ascendancy.
Making a slice of luck
Slick restart receipts spread calm throughout a side, so this would have buoyed Exeter. Once more, Short is the catcher and Chudley the clearer.
This time, his box-kick is so close to the touchline – precisely where scrum-halves are told to aim them – that Nathan Hughes suffers a momentary lapse of concentration.
Allowing it to hit the floor, the in-form No 8 sees the ball bounce infield. Following up on the chase, Slade and replacement loosehead Carl Rimmer combine to recover possession:
Because Chudley has held his ground in back-field after kicking, Welch passes to Julian Salvi from the ensuing breakdown:
Still, the scrum-half makes up the 40 metres to reach the next ruck and deliver a pass to Steenson:
Put simply, Chudley’s performance was non-stop.
Just as we began, we will finish with a glance at some Chiefs phase-play with Chudley in the driving seat. Even before reaching this ruck, he swivels his head to the right, directing prospective runners:
There are a few steps across-field to negate Wasps’ line-speed…
…and an inviting between Gopperth and Alapati Leiua is manufactured for Ian Whitten:
Sure enough, the Ulsterman runs a nice outside arc to cross the gain-line:
Tracking tirelessly, Chudley is swiftly on the scene. Scanning, he clocks that both Ed Shervington and Jake Cooper-Woolley have migrated to the openside before filling in the blindside guard:
There is a tiny gap for Chudley to dart into:
He scored from a very similar piece of opportunism on the same ground around seven months ago:
And though Shervington and Simon McIntyre recover to shackle Chudley on this occasion, excellent support from Rimmer and his colleagues ensures Chiefs keep the ball:
A few phases later, Moray Low shunts over:
Exeter sit second in the Premiership table and, despite the loss of Slade, can be confident heading into a Champions Cup double-header against mighty Clermont.
For Chudley, two fearsome fixtures represent an opportunity to reinforce his class on a grander stage. In May, he earned an England appearance at Twickenham against the Barbarians.
Many thanks to BT Sport and Premiership Rugby for the match footage.