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Post-Match Review

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Exeter Chiefs
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Pictures: Exeter Rugby Club/PInnacle Photo Agency/Getty Images

Pictures: Exeter Rugby Club/PInnacle Photo Agency/Getty Images

Wasps 25

Exeter Chiefs 20

Mark Stevens at Sandy Park

In what is the first meeting between these two Premiership prize-fighters, it was Wasps who delivered the first telling blow of the new season against the Exeter Chiefs.

Undone in all three top flights meetings by the Chiefs last season, Dai Young’s side enacted a spot of revenge in this seasonal opener as a late flurry of points drove them down victory lane.

Jimmy Gopperth – the hero in last season’s European Champions Cup quarter-final between the two clubs – again proved the match winner, converting Tommy Taylor’s late try, as well as a penalty to finish with a personal haul of 15 points.

The Kiwi playmaker, switched to the role of centre for the game, claimed the first of the home side’s three tries on the day with Dan Robson claiming the other.

The Chiefs, it has to be said, had chances to win here in Coventry and even led 17-8 at the break after first half scores from Thomas Waldrom and Will Chudley.

In the second period, though, they failed to scale the same heights, allowing Wasps to wrestle back the momentum midway through the half.

After an unblemished pre-season, which heralded wins over the Scarlets, Ulster and the Dragons, it was a familiar feel to the Chiefs line-up for this seasonal opener against old foes.

Of the starting XV who took to the field at the Ricoh, 11 of them were maintained from the side that lost narrowly to Saracens in last season’s Aviva Premiership Final at Twickenham.

Flanker Don Armand was entrusted with the captaincy with Jack Yeandle and Gareth Steenson included on the bench, while there was a first league start in Exeter colours for centre Ollie Devoto following his summer move from Bath. Fellow newcomers Greg Holmes and Dave Dennis were named on the bench.

Wasps, meanwhile, were also full loaded and included in their starting ranks Taylor and Danny Cipriani, both of whom had moved to the Midlands from Sale Sharks during the close season. However, injuries and unavailability robbed them of the services of other big name signings Kurtley Beale, Kyle Eastmond and Willy Le Roux.

It was, however, the Chiefs who started the contest on the front foot as Baxter’s side won a series of early penalties, which allowed them to position themselves deep inside the home 22. Although the first two drives came to nothing, the third proved more profitable as the Exeter pack drove in field, creating the opening for – you guessed it – Waldrom to plough over from close range.

England star Henry Slade, entrusted with the No.10 jersey ahead of last season’s Golden Boot winner, Gareth Steenson, slotted the extras to that score before drilling over a long-range penalty on 14 minutes after Wasps were pulled up by referee Thomas Foley for infringing at a line-out.

Wasps v Exeter Chiefs 040916It was a solid start for the Devonians, who having weathered a succession of home raids, then fell foul of Foley when he adjudged they had strayed offside just five minutes from their own line. Up stepped Gopperth to plunder the penalty and cut the lead to just seven points.

At the other end, Devoto looked lively in the midfield and he threatened to cause damage with one burst midway through the opening half. However, as the England international looked to offload, an onrushing team-mate was obstructed off the ball, allowing the Chiefs another prime opportunity to strike.

This time Wasps did well to repel the threatening Exeter eight as they set themselves for a driving line-out and only a spilled ball from Olly Woodburn denied replacement James Short from a certain try.

Wasps made the most of the let-off as they attacked down field just moments later. Short did well to deny Dan Robson as he looked to break clear with a last-gasp tackle, while the officials had a close look at some footwork from Devoto at a ruck before deeming nothing untoward had occurred.

The home threat was building steadily and on 32 minutes they finally found a way through the ‘White Wall’ as Gopperth rounded off a slick handling move with a try in the  left corner that he was unable to convert.

Home cheers, though, proved short-lived as within minutes the Chiefs struck for a second time, strong running initially from Short, then Sam Hill, saw the duo carve an opening down the left touchline that Chudley was able to expose with aplomb for a second converted score.


When play resumed the Chiefs looked to pick up from where they had left off, but although they dominated possession for much of the opening ten minutes, they were unable to find their way through the miserly home defence.

That was until they positioned themselves deep behind enemy lines. Strong carries from Cowan-Dickie, Geoff Parling and Hill got them to within touching distance of the home line, the fruits of which yielded a simple Slade penalty after the hosts had strayed offside under their own posts.

Wasps needed to summon a rapid response and this they did as within an instance, a breakout from the dangerous Christian Wade down the right touchline saw him create the opening for Robson to glide in under the posts for the score, converted by Gopperth.

Suddenly, it was Wasps who had the bit between their teeth as they looked to claw back the deficit. Livewire Robson was looking to get them moving at every opportunity, but the Exeter resistance was strong, a point underlined with a thumping hit from Alec Hepburn on Taylor as he looked to ship the ball wide.

Wasps v Exeter Chiefs 040916With little to choose between either side, both threw caution to the wind as they looked to inflict a telling blow. Hepburn on the burst went close for the visitors before spilling in contact, while at the other end Elliot Daly and Wade continued to probe away.

In the end it was Dai Young’s men who found a way through to take the lead in the game for the first time just past the hour mark. Having won a penalty deep inside the Chiefs 22, they kicked to the corner, drove the preceding line-out in field, and there was Taylor to dot down for their third try, again converted by Gopperth to make it 22-20.

Now it was the turn of the Chiefs to chase the game. They huffed and puffed in attack, but never really fashioned a clear-cut opening from which to pounce significantly.

Slade saw a long-range penalty sail just wide of the left post, but that was as good as it got for the visitors, who late on concede another penalty that Gopperth was able to dispatch with little problem.

For the remainder of the contest, Wasps masterfully hogged possession, denying their rivals a grip on the ball. They wound down the clock and in turn wound up the Chiefs, who now must regroup quickly for the visit of Saracens to Sandy Park in a week’s time.

Wasps: R Miller; C Wade, E Daly, J Gopperth, J Bassett (F Halai 72); D Cipriani, D Robson (J Simpson 63); M Mullan (S McIntyre 52), T Taylor, P Swainston (M Moore 61); J Launchbury (capt), J Gaskell (M Symons 52); S Jones (A Rieder 75), G Thompson, N Hughes (A Johnson 61). Replacement (not used): B Macken.

Tries – Gopperth, Robson, Taylor; Conversions – Gopperth (2); Penalties – Gopperth (2)

Chiefs: P Dollman; O Woodburn, O Devoto, S Hill (G Steenson 74), I Whitten (J Short 11); H Slade, W Chudley (D Lewis 57); B Moon (A Hepburn 55), L Cowan-Dickie (J Yeandle 55), H Williams (G Holmes 52); M Lees (G Parling 47), D Welch; D Armand (capt), J Salvi, T Waldrom (D Dennis 64).

Tries – Waldrom, Chudley; Conversions – Slade (2); Penalties – Slade (2)

Referee: T Foley

Attendance: 13,555