Premiership champions Exeter claim an extensive victory over visitors Gloucester at Sandy Park.
Exeter yet again assert their credentials as the English champions, seeing off a visiting Gloucester side 46-10 at Sandy Park. Chiefs loosehead Alec Hepburn will enjoy his man of the match champagne in Exeter this evening, earning the well-deserved accolade despite only playing 59 minutes. His work was seamlessly paired with superb handling skills. The England international's 27th try opened the Chiefs account for the day, spinning out of a double tackle from Mark Atkinson and John Afoa.
Gloucester started off with plenty of possession and ample opportunity in the first ten minutes. Outside centre Henry Trinder nearly crossed for the game’s opening score in under a minute. Unfortunately, the 28-year-old's foot was in touch, ruling out the prospect of the perfect start for the Cherry and Whites.
Despite their possession in the opening phases, Gloucester’s attack proved to be no match for Chiefs’ defence, with their forward runners failing to make significant ground.
Once the Chiefs took possession of the ball, they refused to share with their fellow West Countrymen. The home side had 83% possession and 88% territory in the first-half, resigning Gloucester to endless phases of staunch defence that eventually gave way to a Chiefs' side pummelling at the door.
Despite Johann Ackermann’s men aggression in defence, when Exeter are afforded as much possession as they were today, there is little many sides can do to stop them. By the half-time whistle, Chiefs led by 22 points to 3, with tries for Hepburn, Sam Simmonds and Olly Woodburn.
Gloucester started off their second-half in a similar fashion to their first with replacement scrum-half Callum Braley, who replaced the injured Willi Heinz in the 15th minute, crossing for his side’s first and only try following a line break from centre Mark Atkinson.
Unfortunately for deputising captain Ed Slater, his side failed to add to the scoreboard following Braley’s score, conceding 24 unanswered points. Two tries for Jack Nowell and one for Gareth Steenson was the punishment for Gloucester’s dismal accuracy.
Knock-ons, poor exit plays and a first-half Ruan Ackermann yellow card proved too damaging to Gloucester’s siege of Sandy Park, with every ladder hoisted to climb the Devon walls pulled down by the very men raising them.
Exeter hold their eight-point lead at the top of the Premiership table despite second place Saracens putting over 60 points on Northampton yesterday. Joe Simmonds continued his development as the Chiefs' first-choice 10 in fine form today, benefitting from the ever dominant pack in front of him.
Gloucester will rightly be dejected after today's showing but should take plenty of confidence from their mammoth defensive efforts in the first-half. Many sides would have conceded nearer to 40 points than 20 in a half with only 17% possession. Gloucester have seen significant improvement during their first season under Johann Ackermann's charge, yet still have moments like today to eradicate from their reportage if they are to mount a serious challenge for a top-four finish and a shot at the Premiership trophy for the first time in eleven years.
Rob Baxter currently stands a strong chance of leading the Chiefs to consecutive domestic titles, with a home semi-final all but guaranteed. Their England stars are in form and are still yet to be boosted by the return of a few first-choice players from injury.
With London Irish (a), Sale Sharks (h) and Harlequins (a) next up this season, they are looking likely to be entering the playoffs at thunderous velocity.
Tries: Hepburn, S.Simmonds, Woodburn, Nowell (2), Steenson
Conversions: J.Simmonds (5/6)
Penalties: J.Simmonds (2/2)
Conversions: Williams (1/1)
Tries: Penalties (1/1)