Chiefs beat Wasps to add English title to their European one
Exeter crowned Premiership champions
The Gallagher Premiership final looked very different this year. Blazing sunshine and blue skies replaced by swirling rain and floodlights. Stands packed with fans in a multitude of colours replaced by rows and rows of empty green seats. The roars of tens of thousands of spectators replaced by the sporadic cheers from the non-playing members of the squad (and the cutouts Wasps brought with them didn’t make too much noise!).
What hadn’t changed was the fact Exeter Chiefs were in the Twickenham showpiece – for the fifth straight year. And a 19-13 victory over Wasps, the team they beat back in 2017 when lifting their first English title, ensured Exeter added the Premiership trophy to the Heineken Champions Cup that they lifted a week ago.
A decade after being promoted to the top flight, Chiefs are double winners, English and European champions. That’s quite a rise.
The game lacked momentum such were the conditions and Exeter weren’t as clinical in the 22 as they have been throughout the season so, as Rob Baxter said afterwards, the Chiefs had to “dig deep” in order to lift the silverware.
Wasps were able to negate the effectiveness of Exeter’s driving maul, which has become something of a super-strength for the Chiefs, but it wasn’t an evening for the dazzling attacking rugby Wasps have produced in the second half of this elongated season, the miserable weather leading to many a dropped ball from both sides.
Despite the horrible conditions, the first half was lit up by two wonderful pieces of back play.
First, Exeter switched their attack to the narrow side, Henry Slade took the ball to the line and then burst straight between two Wasps defenders before cutting inside another to score the opening try after 18 minutes. You can watch it here…
Then on the half-hour mark Wasps struck with a set move. Dan Robson sent a miss pass to Jacob Umaga and, with Zach Kibirige drawing the attention of Exeter’s defence, the fly-half burst through, got past Stuart Hogg and scored under the posts. Here’s that try…
The Chiefs led 13-10 at half-time thanks to two penalties from Joe Simmonds to Jimmy Gopperth’s one. The fact Exeter chose to go for the posts rather than attack from their set-piece was a change in tactics, but one that worked.
Exeter had chances to extend their lead early in the second half but this time opted for lineouts in the 22 rather than shots at goal – and that didn’t pay off.
Jack Willis proved why he keeps picking up awards by winning an important breakdown penalty just metres from his own line while other moves broke down with knock-ons in the back-line – unsurprising with the rain continuing to teem down.
Gopperth – the oldest scorer in a Premiership final – then drew Wasps level with a penalty midway through the half before a scrum penalty followed by a breakdown penalty took Chiefs upfield and gave them the opportunity to restore their advantage, which Simmonds duly did from the tee.
With ten minutes to go, Man of the Match Slade found touch five metres out from a penalty – the perfect position for the Chiefs to get their lineout maul rolling. It felt like this could be the match-winning moment, only for Wasps defensive work to again drive them back.
A couple of minutes later, it looked like Wasps might take the lead with a driving maul of their own close to the line. That broke down but they were awarded another penalty. They opted for another lineout rather than a shot at goal, which would have drawn them level if successful, and Exeter were able to steal possession.
From there the Chiefs worked their way upfield, set another couple of driving lineouts and Simmonds slotted another penalty with the last kick of the game to secure victory.
A different final but the same outcome as the previous week’s. Exeter Chiefs are double winners.
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