By Mark Stevens
Irishman Gareth Steenson was singled out for praise by Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter after he produced a man-of-the-match display to help his side to a 27-16 victory at Aviva Premiership champions Harlequins.
The 28-year-old fly-half was chief tormentor for the Devon club at the Twickenham Stoop as his 17-point haul went alongside second half touchdowns from Damian Welch and Luke Arscott.
Exeter’s victory, their second in as many weeks, not only ensured they maintained their hopes of being amongst the division’s top six, but also enabled them to claim a league double over Conor O’Shea’s Premiership leaders, who were humbled 42-28 at Sandy Park back in early October.
Afterwards, Baxter was quick to pay tribute to all of his team, but in particular Dungannon-born Steenson, who took his tally of points in the top flight to 164 for the season.
“People criticise him and say he is a kicker and nothing else, but he was far from that today,” said Baxter. “I am a massive believer that guys get better with Premiership exposure, and Steeno has had a good run of games now, and that is what fly-halves need.
“He is coming through it, he is kicking well, and he is looking more and more comfortable and content out there all the time, and that happens for a reason.
“He is working very hard, he is a professional guy and it means a lot to him, and he is playing very well for us. I think he thoroughly deserves the accolades he will get from the match, because as the game broke up, not only did he make those breaks and provide a cutting edge for us, but he also tactically kicked very well.
“I think only once did he tactically get it wrong when, in the first half, he knocked a little chip up, but he knew straight away he had got it wrong, and he used that to improve himself over the rest of the game, and that shows someone who is getting it right.”
As well as Steenson, the Chiefs were mightily impressive and drew praise not only from the Sky Sports pundits post match, but also O’Shea who described the visitors as “magnificent”.
That will certainly be music to the ears of Baxter and his Chiefs, who now have a two-week break from action, before resuming duties at home to Leicester Tigers on Saturday, March 23 (5pm).
Baxter added: “Apart from Gareth’s performance, the big key for me was that we showed a really good intensity and physicality from one to 15. That’s an area we have sometimes been disappointed with. We always feel we are quite a good attacking side and quite well structured and we create opportunities, and sometimes we haven’t always had an edge about us, but today we had it all.
“We hunted them in defence, we worked very hard in getting ourselves set and getting off the line and getting after tackles, and we didn’t give up momentum easily. We controlled quite a lot of the momentum in the game, and ultimately we have come out on top because of that.”