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Exeter Chiefs
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Pictures: Exeter Rugby Club/Pinnacle Photo Agency

Pictures: Exeter Rugby Club/Pinnacle Photo Agency

Exeter Chiefs 36

Harlequins 25

Mark Stevens at Sandy Park

Luke Cowan-Dickie led the way as Exeter Chiefs recorded their first Aviva Premiership victory of the season against visiting Harlequins.

Having suffered back-to-back defeats at the hands of Wasps and defending champions Saracens, Rob Baxter’s side rediscovered their winning formula at the third time of asking.

Cornishman Cowan-Dickie was the main headliner grabber, claiming a hat-trick of tries and producing an outstanding display that watching England forwards coach, Neal Hatley, will have duly noted with plenty of interest.

The in-form hooker was everywhere for the home side, building on a solid start to the season which has already yielded four tries for the 23-year-old.

Aussie international Lachie Turner also weighed in with a brace of tries for the Devonians with returning fly-half Gareth Steenson landing the remaining points with his trusty right boot.

In reply, Harlequins countered with tries of their own from Rob Buchanan, Danny Care and Charlie Walker, while Tim Swiel pocketed two conversions and two penalties, but it was never enough against last season’s Premiership runners-up.

For the Chiefs, victory was the most important factor on the day and although they are sure to play better this season, getting their campaign finally up and running was paramount to Baxter and his players.

Ahead of kick-off the home side had tinkered slightly with their line-up. Steenson was back for his first start at fly-half, Henry Slade moved to the midfield, while a reshuffle of the back three saw Olly Woodburn return with Turner taking over at full-back after Phil Dollman broke his hand against Sarries the week previous.

Harlequins, meanwhile, arrived in Devon minus two of their frontline stars, Nick Evans and Jamie Roberts, due to injury, but were able to welcome back Mike Brown at full-back for the first time this season.
With conditions nigh on perfect, it was the Chiefs who were quickest out of the traps, opening their account inside five minutes as a clever combo involving Steenson and Will Chudley put them on the front foot. Although the half-backs were foiled in their initial attempts to cross, the forwards picked up the attack before creating the opening for Turner to drift over from close range for his maiden Exeter try.

It was the start Baxter would have craved given recent results, but straight from the kick-off the Chiefs handed the initiative straight back to the Londoners, Thomas Waldrom straying offside after Geoff Parling had spilled the restart.

Fly-half Swiel – deputising for the injured Evans and Ruairdh Jackson – slotted the simple penalty, before repeating the feat just two minutes later when the hosts again fell foul of referee Matthew Carley for holding on in the tackle.

To their credit the Chiefs did not allow Swiel’s double to overly trouble them and within an instance they were back in front as Cowan-Dickie claimed his first of the afternoon, capitalising on a loose line-out from the visitors to score with relative ease.

Steenson slotted the conversion to that score and Exeter’s sublime third try, which arrived on 21 minutes. Working off a set-piece scrum deep inside their own half, the ball was worked from the left flank to the right in the blink of an eye. With time and space to move, Woodburn charged down field before producing a sumptuous offload to Turner, who was able to race over unopposed.

Again Harlequins countered quickly, scoring a well-crafted line-out score from hooker Buchanan, who was able to dot down at the back of a rumbling driving maul to make it 19-13.

But as the half continued to tick by, so the Chiefs began to crank up the gears. Pressure was mounting by the minute, as was the penalty count against Quins’ prop Kyle Sinckler, whose double indiscretion allowed Steenson to punt the ball into the right corner and set up another attack.

Although phase one was halted by the visitors, phase two proved more profitable for the hosts who – in almost a carbon copy of the Harlequins score – created the driving maul that allowed Cowan-Dickie to burrow over for his second of the afternoon.

Steenson converted that score, before adding a penalty on the stroke of half time, to put his side firmly in charge at the interval.


With the Sandy Park faithful happy to lap up the try bonus already, they were given even more reason to cheer early in the second half as the Chiefs again set the early tone.

Another early penalty allowed them to position themselves deep inside the Harlequins 22, the fruits of which again served up a third try of the game for Cowan-Dickie, who was able to get on the back of a dominant maul and drive to the whitewash.

Steenson plundered a brilliant touchline conversion to edge his side even further in front with little more than six minutes of the half played.

In control of proceedings, you expected the Chiefs to further hammer home their superiority during the half. Instead, a spirited Harlequins outfit – aided by some fresh impetus from the bench – countered to good effect and hauled the home side back into sight.
Just past the hour England international Care started the fightback, latching onto a clever offload from Brown to race in under the home posts for their second converted.

Lifted by the score, the visitors continue to press forward in attack. Initially they found the home defence tough to breakdown, but they eventually found a way through, Walker applying an easy finish in the right corner after Yarde and Luke Wallace had gone close.

Although there was no doubt about Walker’s score, referee Carley was keen to review an earlier incident in the build-up to the try involving Chiefs replacement prop Tomas Francis and Care.

On review – and in consultation with the TMO David Sainsbury – it was Welsh international Francis, who was being called to the official. TV replays showed the powerhouse forward had kicked Care in the head as he looked to break through at a ruck and Carley had little option – under the new guidelines – but to issue the first-ever red card to a Chiefs player in the top flight.

Down a man for the final ten minutes, the Chiefs did well to not only to hold their rivals at bay, but they came within a whisker of adding a sixth try. A foot in touch denied the hosts with just a few minutes remaining in the contest.

For Baxter, though, his side are off the mark and with a testing M5 derby against Premiership new boys Bristol to

Exeter Chiefs: L Turner (J Short 76); O Woodburn, O Devoto (S Hill 55), H Slade, I Whitten; G Steenson (capt), W Chudley (D Lewis 63); B Moon (A Hepburn 53), L Cowan-Dickie (J Yeandle 53), G Holmes (T Francis 53); G Parling, D Welch (O Atkins 66); D Armand (D Dennis 45), J Salvi (G Holmes 77), T Waldrom.

Tries – Turner (2), Cowan-Dickie (3); Conversions – Steenson (4); Penalty – Steenson

Red Card: Francis

Harlequins: M Brown; M Yarde, J Marchant (Alofa Alofa 59), W Stanley, C Walker; T Swiel, D Care (capt); J Marler (M Lambert 55), R Buchanan (D Ward 47), K Sinckler (W Collier 47); S Twomey (G Merrick 47), J Horwill; C Robshaw, L Wallace, J Clifford (J Chisholm 55). Replacements (not used): K Dickson, J Lang.

Tries – Buchanan, Care, Walker; Conversions – Swiel (2); Penalties – Swiel (2)

Referee: M Carley

Attendance: 9,391