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Exeter Chiefs 45
Mark Stevens at Sandy Park
Rob Baxter challenged his troops to deliver in battle ahead of their opening pre-season fixture against the Scarlets at a sun-baked Sandy Park.
Keen to ensure his class of 2016/17 hit the new season firing on all cylinders, the Exeter Chiefs head coach said it was vital those given their chance against the Welsh region made the most of the opportunity afforded to them.
In an often one-sided encounter, last season’s Aviva Premiership runners-up simply had too much in all departments for the Scarlets, whose scant reward on a sizzling summer’s day was a first half penalty from new signing Rhys Patchell.
The Chiefs – who led 10-3 at the turn courtesy of a converted Harry Williams try, plus an early Will Hooley penalty – ran riot in the second period, running in a further five scores through Tom Johnson, Matt Jess, Thomas Waldrom and a brace from winger Olly Woodburn.
Gareth Steenson slotted conversions to all five tries, while Joe Simmonds (pictured) – who was an early replacement for Hooley – added the other additional two points.
It was – to all extent and purposes – a most satisfactory afternoon for Baxter and his Chiefs, who a week today will play host to yet more opposition from the Guinness Pro 12 division, this time Ulster Rugby.
Baxter has already hinted that a number of other players – including newcomers Ollie Devoto, Dave Dennis and Greg Holmes – make get their chance to shine, whilst others on duty in this opening fixture will have yet another shot to impress as the countdown to the seasonal opener at Wasps on September 4 draws ever nearer.
Parading a powerful starting XV, headed up by club captain Jack Yeandle in the first half, it took the Chiefs just four minutes to open their account, fly-half Hooley slotting a lengthy penalty after the Exeter scrum had dismantled their rivals with a huge shove.
The home side then extended their lead just before the first quarter had elapsed. Having won a series of penalties, they used the tried-and-trusted kick to the corner to set up base from which they were able to drive in field through a series of phases, allowing tight-head prop Williams to bundle his way past a stream of Scarlets as they looked to defend their line.
The Chiefs looked to build on their early lead but, such is the nature of pre-season, not everything tends to click at this time of year and chances came and went in quick succession.
Up front, though, the home set-piece was looking impressive and was serving as the perfect platform from which the Chiefs could look to attack.
Manfully the Scarlets soaked up the home pressure before exerting a spot of attacking impetus of their own as the half drew towards a close.
Ian Whitten’s deliberate knockdown allowed Patchell, recently recruited from the Cardiff Blues, to plunder a long distance penalty, before the Chiefs had to dig deep in defence as the Welshmen laid siege with plethora of attacking raids.
Home scrum-half Stu Townsend was lucky not to escape punishment when he cynically ended one attack, whilst Steff Evans’ searing break and link-up with Patchell and Ioan Nicholas was only halted when James Short raced across from the opposite wing at a rate of knots.
HALF TIME EXETER CHIEFS 10 SCARLETS 3
With a virtually new-look line-up for the second half – only Max Bodilly was kept on by Baxter – the fresh muscle wasted little time in getting the Chiefs back on the offensive
Another penalty kicked to the corner allowed the Devonians to set up camp deep inside the Scarlets 22, the fruits of which then led to England international Johnson burrowing his way over the whitewash for the first of five converted scores in the second half.
Woodburn was next to add his name to the scoresheet, the former Bath flyer latching onto a clever offload from Pete Laverick to race through the middle unopposed and under the sticks to make it 24-3.
Now with a healthy three-try buffer to their name, the Chiefs continued to flex their muscles in attack. Starting deep inside their own half, they worked the ball from the right-hand side to the left in the blink of the eye, releasing Jess who was able to race his way over from almost halfway.
As the Scarlets wilted in the afternoon heat, so there cause was further hampered when referee Thomas Foley lost patience at another deliberate attempt to thwart an Exeter line-out drive. Replacement Tedhg Beirne was the guilty culprit and he was duly dispatched to the sidelines for a ten-minute stint.
The Chiefs made the most of the numerical advantage, adding a fifth try when – you guessed it – Waldrom, the club’s top try-scorer for the past two seasons, snuck his way over from just a few yards out to score.
Steenson continued to oblige with the additional points with his trusty right boot and the Ulsterman was able to put the coupe de grace on Exeter’s victory, slotting a final conversion to Woodburn’s second of the afternoon with just two minutes remaining on the clock.
For the the Chiefs it was a decent first hit out, but as Baxter was quick to stress post-match, there is plenty still for the Chiefs to work on in the coming days and weeks. Next up is the visit of Ulster to Sandy Park.
Chiefs: L Turner (O Woodburn h/t); M Bodilly (L Turner 62), I Whitten (P Laverick h/t), T Hendrickson (S Hill h/t), J Short (M Jess h/t); W Hooley (J Simmonds 9, G Steenson h/t), S Townsend (J Maunder h/t); C Rimmer (B Moon h/t), J Yeandle (S Malton h/t), H Williams (M Low h/t); J Hill (O Atkins h/t), D Welch (G Parling h/t); D Ewers (T Johnson h/t), S Simmonds (J Salvi h/t), K Horstmann (T Waldrom h/t).
Tries – Williams, Johnson, Woodburn (2), Jess, Waldrom; Conversions – J Simmonds, Steenson (5); Penalty – Hooley
Scarlets: A Thomas (R Smith h/t); I Nicholas, S Hughes, H Parkes (capt), S Evans; R Patchell (D Jones h/t, A Thomas 62), J Evans (D Smith 73); D Evans (W Jones h/t), R Elias (T Davies h/t, D Hughes 73), P Edwards (W Taylor 28, W Kruger 53); R Bernardo (T Beirne h/t), T Price (D Bulbring 36); A Shingler (L Rawlins h/t), W Boyde (J McLeod 62), M Allen (T Phillips 57).
Yellow Card: Beirne
Referee: T Foley