South west London meets South west England. It didn’t disappoint. A clash of styles and cultures in every sense. Perfect conditions at The Stoop and a faithful who turned out in numbers, the atmosphere was one of expectation. There was a real sniff of upset in the air. Exeter had rested their England internationals but still fielded a side stacked with class from 1 to 15. However, that class never really found its stride. In previous seasons, Quins would have found a way to lose this game. But the Gustard factor has taken hold and Quins edged the Chiefs in a thriller at The Stoop.
The first half
Exeter were sloppy by their high standards and will be frustrated. Whilst both teams will have much to chew on in Monday's video analysis, Quins will be proud. Totemic performances from the Quins backrow consisting of Alex Dombrandt, James Chisholm and Jack Clifford outplayed their better-known counterparts of Dave Ewers, Don Armand and Matt Kvesic. The game was open throughout with both teams balancing territory with daring attack.
The game started in a predictable fashion, Exeter exerted their familiar brand on Quins. Kvesic and his chums muscled their way over to go one try up. It felt like Chiefs were bowling down the Quins alley, and heading straight for the lead pin. But, uncharacteristic errors began to creep into the Chiefs usually exacting style. Chisholm hit back with a well-taken try of his own after a period of sustained pressure.
Tactically, Quins targeted Joe Simmonds' channel. In fairness to Simmonds he stood to post, but just before half-time, off a central scrum, Saili attacked Simmonds outside shoulder, drawing interest from Whitten, which created the 2-on-1 for Nathan Earle to touch down. Simmonds’ opponent, James Lang, had a reasonable game. He varied the depth that he received the ball, sometimes taking it to the line, sometimes sitting deeper. Ewers had a particularly busy half putting 12 tackles in the first 45 minutes, a couple of them were bone-crunchers. The first half ended with the home side up 13-5.
The second half
Danny Care marshalled well for most of the evening. He was his usual menacing self around the fringes and spent a lot of time trying (unsuccessfully) to extract penalties from referee, Ian Tempest. In contrast, Nick White had an off evening with his tactical kicking; not up to his normal deadly standards. Care's one obvious mistake, which had consequences, was on '47 minutes when he should have boxed to exit the 22. Quins tried to play wide and handed the ball to Chiefs inside the 22, not something that would have put a smile on Gustard's face. The result was a classic Chiefs keep-it-tight try scored by captain Jack Yeandle in the 50th minute. 2 tries apiece.
The game yo-yo’d and it felt like Quins were ascending. Then bang. Quins were rocked. Ollie Devoto scored a try that can only be attributed to the squat rack at Sandy Park. His leg drive was phenomenal. At 62 minutes it was a one-point game and both teams fancied themselves. Marcus Smith held his nerve to nudge Quins in front with a 66th minute penalty. The sounds of “The Mighty Quinn’ began to ring around The Stoop.
A Quins victory felt probable when Marchant dotted down by the grace of a clever Care grubber. Was there to be an Exeter Great Escape? Almost. With less than 2 minutes on the clock, Marcus Smith threw an intercept onto the tracks of the steam train that is Ian Whitten, who galloped in unapposed.
Steenson converted quickly and suddenly Quins pacemakers were flashing red with anxiety. It wasn’t to be. White knocked on and Quins claimed a famous victory against the league leaders. Exeter won’t be worried, but they will be disappointed - 18 tackles missed and plenty of poor hands. Quins bank a victory that will do wonders for their belief and morale. The style of victory had a gritty feel to it. Something you might call the Gustard factor.