Gallagher Premiership Round Two: Wasps v Exeter Chiefs

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The Gallagher Premiership Round Two match ups continued at the Ricoh Arena on Saturday when Wasps met the Exeter Chiefs. Both sides had featured in last season’s top four, Chiefs being pipped to their second consecutive championship title by Saracens. Wasps too had performed well; not quite their brilliance of 2016 but still potent in the attacking areas. The weekend’s fixture was destined to be a fiery encounter and it certainly lived up to all expectations.

Fast Start for Both Teams

Wasps began the brighter, needing only two minutes before Elliot Daly broke the Chiefs’ defence to score. He sold covering defender Ollie Devoto the dummy and took off through the gap to score a simple try. Not long after though and Exeter took play into the Wasps 22 after the hosts conceded a penalty on halfway. Chiefs were awarded an advantage from the resulting maul when it was illegally collapsed so took the risk to swing the ball out wide and put Cordero into the corner. Like last week the Argentinian winger was already looking highly impressive. He gathered the ball in and evaded several tackles in order to score – by no means an easy try. With the score now tied 7 apiece and the game so open it was only a matter of time before another try would be added.

And that time came almost instantaneously. Wasps’ stand in fly half Billy Searle placed a perfectly weighted grubber through the Exeter line of defence which Josh Bassett latched onto to dot down. Searle’s conversion took his side back to a 7 point lead and cancelled out the Chiefs’ previous score. The restart caused the hosts further problems however. Wasps conceded another penalty on halfway which Slade drilled into the corner, a replica of his kick that would give any Saracens fan nightmares. The Exeter pack repeated their trademark move, setting up a powerful driving maul to bundle Sam Simmonds over the line. Steenson levelled the scores once more. By this point nobody could predict where the game would go.

Running Rugby Exploited Defensive Issues

Both sides were demonstrating great attacking intent and defensively there were enough issues to keep allowing the backs the opportunity to run through holes. This exact scenario was then exploited by Exeter. Henry Slade cut a great line and broke through a gaping hole, running the 30 metres to score. For the first time Exeter took the lead which was extended to 7 points by Steenson’s boot.

Scoring temporarily stopped, halted by a period of phase play and set piece attempts. Searle added a penalty for the hosts 10 minutes from half time after Exeter collapsed a scrum. The Chiefs then conceded another penalty only minutes later which was tapped quickly by Dan Robson, his dive for the tryline stopped but Nathan Hughes managed to power his way over to give Wasps the lead. Searle added the extras and that was that for the first forty minutes. The visitors trailed at half time, 24-21.

Second Half Highlights – Visitors Take Control

Play restarted for the second half with some kick tennis that rewarded Exeter with a scrum after the Wasps fullback fumbled in his 22. New referee Christophe Ridley then gave Chiefs the scrum penalty which despite being kickable, Steenson opted for the corner. In clearing out a ruck from the subsequent phases, Wasps flanker Brad Shields took a nasty blow to the head when he clashed with Townsend. There was a long delay as medical staff rushed on to see to his injuries (and was later found that Shields had broken a cheekbone and is expected to miss a large portion of the coming months). This is worrying news for England coach Eddie Jones with the autumn tests approaching.

Play resumed once again with an Exeter lineout five metres out. As is so often the case, the forward pack gathered momentum and drove the Wasps defenders backwards until Sam Simmonds crashed over the line for his 2nd and Exeter’s 4th score. Steenson kept his 100% kicking record in adding the conversation, taking the visitors back in front.

Fifteen minutes without a further score gave everyone a chance to take a breath. This fixture had always been eventful but rarely is it as end to end as Saturday was and tries certainly didn’t stop there. Like Sam Simmonds, Henry Slade bagged his second, plucking a Searle pass out of the air to run 70 metres for the score. Exeter were now motoring.

Wasps Fightback in Vein

The next ten minutes saw both sides launch endeavour after endeavour but to no avail. Every time the ball fell to Cordero or Wade the crowd lifted in volume and this was also the case when the hosts’ new signing Lima Sopoaga joined the field to replace Billy Searle. Wasps were next to get in on the act, Dan Robson diving under the posts to score following some strong carries from the Wasps forwards. Sopoaga kicked his first points in a Wasps shirt to take the score to 31-35 in favour of the visitors. Was a comeback on for the hosts?

Now Wasps really turned up the heat. They turned over an Exeter lineout and hacked downfield in a last ditch attempt at restoring their lead. Chiefs took the resulting lineout and broke upfield but lost the ball and had to backtrack while the hosts attacked one last time. The visitors did however manage to turn the ball back over and take play deep into the Wasps 22 where the forward pack carried hard to gain extra yards.

Wasps having been so potent in attack now had to rely on their defence to keep their hopes alive. But it was to no avail again. Don Armand powered his way through the last Wasps defenders to crash over the line, taking Exeter to a second bonus point victory in a row. Wasps had to settle for just a try bonus point, their four point margin extended beyond the realms of a losing bonus as well. Full time at the Ricoh Arena and Exeter had claimed a huge win. The final score read Wasps 31-42 Chiefs.

Boss’s Breakdown

Wasps Director of Rugby Dai Young commented after the game how he felt his side didn’t make the most of all the opportunities they received. This was somewhat evident in viewing of the fixture, several handling errors gifting possession back to Exeter in key areas. However, generally he can be pleased with his side. Wasps worked cohesively and functioned well in their attack. Perhaps in a critical sense their defensive structure was not up to a high enough standard for a top 4 team. However Exeter are by no means an easy side to face, be that home or away. Young can definitely take a combination of positives and negatives from this meeting ahead of his side’s clash with Leicester in a week’s time.

Top Performers in the Gallagher Premiership Round Two

Chiefs’ Champion – Henry Slade

Man of the Match and categorically the standout performance on the field came from Exeter Chiefs centre Henry Slade. He proved fundamental for the visitors, scoring twice to give his side the edge. Both of Slade’s tries were totally different though, emphasis of his versatility in game.

His first was a piece of solo brilliance, cutting through the Wasps defence untouched and running a distance to the line. Whereas his second came from a great read of the play in front of him. His interception of Searle’s pass took Exeter into a healthy lead which they maintained until the final whistle.

Both Gallagher Premiership fixtures this season have complimented Slade’s abilities, his name on the score sheet against Wasps and Leicester last week also. Slade was certainly a pivotal player in this victory and it’s almost unthinkable to imagine his exclusion from Eddie Jones’ next England contingent.

Wasps’ Wonderkid – Billy Searle

By far one of Wasps’ best performing players of the fixture was flyhalf Billy Searle. He was crucial in several of Wasps’ scores, providing a perfect grubber kick for Josh Bassett’s try in one instance. The 22 year-old 10 has fast found his footing in a Wasps shirt and is definitely one to watch over the coming months.

With Jimmy Gopperth out for nine months and Danny Cipriani having moved to Gloucester, a large gap has opened up in this position. The shirt will undoubtedly be contested by Searle and new signing Sopoaga. However on current form it would be hard to see a reason to overlook the youngster signed from Bristol over the summer.

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