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- Exeter Chiefs
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Newport-Gwent Dragons 16
Exeter Chiefs 32
Mark Stevens at Rodney Parade
Exeter Chiefs will head into the new Aviva Premiership season with an unblemished record from pre-season after they chalked up a third straight win against the Dragons.
A strong second half display from Rob Baxter’s side saw them pull clear of their Welsh rivals, who for at least half of the game, put up a more than creditable fight at Rodney Parade.
In the end, though, the Chiefs had too much in the tank and with in-form winger Olly Woodburn helping himself to a hat-trick of tries on the night, it was a satisfying outcome for the Devonians who added further tries from Luke Cowan-Dickie and Ollie Devoto.
In reply, the Dragons claimed an early try through Pat Howard, while the boot of Nick McLeod and Carl Meyer kept them in touch up until half time as they punished some sloppy indiscretions in the opening period.
Having chalked up earlier wins over the Scarlets and Ulster at Sandy Park, Baxter always knew this final friendly would offer the sort of test his side would need ahead of their seasonal opener against Wasps on Sunday week.
Keen to ensure his frontline stars were primed and ready for the trip to the Ricoh, it was a powerful line-up assembled by Baxter for their trip into the Principality.
The Dragons, meanwhile, were also revving themselves up for the new campaign and they paraded in their match-day squad, two former Chiefs in the shape of props Craig Mitchell and Lloyd Fairbrother.
And it was the hosts who were quickest out of the blocks on a stunning summer’s evening. Just two minutes had elapsed when they broke the deadlock, the Welshmen making the most of turnover ball to release winger Howard, who was able to dart over in the left-hand corner for the opening try, converted by McLeod.
Worse could have followed for the sluggish Chiefs just moments later as full-back Meyer saw a long-range penalty chance sail just wide of the left post.
The Newport full-back, though, made no mistake when he was afforded a second shot at the target on nine minutes, this after Harry Williams had failed to shift his imposing frame from the base of a ruck.
The Chiefs needed to breath life back into their game after the early Dragons onslaught and this they did when, having worked a line-out move in field through the forwards, they spun the ball wide to the right, creating the overlap for Woodburn to dot down in the corner with little resistance.
It was just the lift the visitors needed, but instead of building on their triumph they allowed a string of soft penalties, coupled with some poor handling, to allow the Dragons to position themselves back in their half.
Former Sale Sharks fly-half McLeod extended their lead with a 20th minute penalty, while some desperate defence from the Chiefs held to keep their rivals at bay as they pushed hard for a second try.
Having survived the threat, Baxter’s side responded in kind at the other end, claiming their second try of the night as England international Cowan-Dickie squirmed his way over in the right corner following some strong approach work involving Mitch Lees, Sam Hill and Devoto.
Slade was again unable to convert from wide on the right touchline, but he did make his mark just before the break landing a simple penalty after a sustained spell of pressure from the Chiefs had got them to within inches of the home try-line.
HALF TIME DRAGONS 13 EXETER CHIEFS 13
An unchanged Chiefs emerged for the second period and it took them just three minutes to get back on the scoresheet. Strong bursts initially from Messrs Dollman, Whitten and Lees were quickly followed up by a second wave of attacks led by Damian Welch.
It was a brutal bombardment from the visitors, who having punched significant holes into the home defence, then ruthlessly exposed the numbers game out wide, creating the opening for Devoto to cross for his first converted try in Exeter colours.
In front for the first time in the contest, the Chiefs looked to build on their early pressure. Again, though, a softly conceded penalty – this time against Julian Salvi – allowed McLeod to claw back three points with his second successful kick of the night.
The Chiefs – it has to be said – were looking much improved and they thought they had claimed their fourth try of the night when Woodburn was on hand to cut in from the right flank and touchdown. World renowned referee, Nigel Owens, had other ideas, chalking off the score for a forward pass.
Again the Dragons pushed hard in attack looking to glean further reward, but they were met by a fierce white wall of defence. One tackle from Slade on Nic Cudd as he looked to break clear epitomised the desire of the visitors not to leak any further points.
And having soaked up the home pressure, the Chiefs picked off their fourth try, Woodburn the beneficiary as he plucked a looping pass from the groggy McLeod out of the night sky, before racing the best part of 60 metres to score. Replacement Steenson – as so often he does – obliged with the additional extras.
To their credit the Dragons refused to lie down and continued to offer genuine resistance in most areas of the game. The Chiefs, though, were a lot more streetwise after the break, thwarting their advances and then countering with deadly effect.
More stubborn work in the defensive line from Baxter’s men saw the Dragons cough up possession deep inside the Chiefs half, Welch lapped up the loose ball – set off a rate of knots – before he was hauled to the deck. Thankfully, support was close at hand and it was fed wide to the waiting Woodburn, who made no mistake with his third of the game.
That effectively sealed the match for the visitors, who having run their bench during the second period, will now gear up for that all-important trip to Coventry next week.
Dragons: C Meyer; (G Gasson 73) A Warren, S Beard (G Rhys Jones 73), J Dixon (C Davies 78), P Howard; N McLeod (A O’Brien 63), S Pretorious (L Jones 69); S Hobbs (T Davies h/t), T Rhys Thomas (capt, R Buckley 58), C Mitchell (L Fairbrother h/t); M Screech (N Crosswell h/t-44, A Sweet 54), C Hill; O Griffiths, N Cudd, E Jackson (H Keddie 63).
Try – Howard; Conversion – McLeod; Penalties – Meyer, McLeod (2)
Chiefs: P Dollman (L Turner 71); O Woodburn (W Hooley 79), O Devoto (M Bodilly 75), S Hill (G Steenson 54), I Whitten (J Short 62); H Slade, W Chudley (D Lewis 62); B Moon (A Hepburn 54), L Cowan-Dickie (J Yeandle 62), H Williams (G Holmes 58); M Lees (G Parling 54), D Welch; D Armand (capt), J Salvi (T Waldrom 69), T Waldrom (D Dennis 62).
Tries – Woodburn (3), Cowan-Dickie, Devoto; Conversions – Slade, Steenson; Penalty – Slade
Referee: N Owens (Wal)