Double champions Exeter finally bag first win of 2021, but Worcester make them sweat
Champions Exeter returned to winning ways and moved second in the Gallagher Premiership after beating Worcester 21-17 at Sixways. Successive league defeats against Wasps and Bristol meant that Exeter were searching for a first Premiership victory since Boxing Day.
But although the Chiefs achieved that aim, large parts of their performance proved unconvincing against a Warriors side that rallied impressively from going 14-0 behind in 14 minutes. Tries by lock Jonny Gray, centre Ian Whitten and his midfield partner Ollie Devoto proved just enough to nudge Exeter over the finishing line, while fly-half Joe Simmonds kicked three conversions.
Worcester looked as though they might be on the receiving end of a heavy defeat, given Exeter’s ferocious opening, yet they dominated for long periods before having to be content with a losing bonus point.
Substitute fly-half Duncan Weir and centre Oli Morris scored tries, with Weir adding two conversions and a penalty, but Exeter ultimately shaded the contest despite falling well short of their usual standard.
Lock Graham Kitchener made his first appearance of the season for Worcester after recovering from a broken foot, but there was no place in Warriors’ match-day 23 for new signing Chris Ashton. Exeter were without England quartet Henry Slade, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Harry Williams and Jonny Hill ahead of the Guinness Six Nations, but Scotland pair Gray and Stuart Hogg, together with Wales prop Tomas Francis, all started.
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) January 30, 2021
The Chiefs made their presence felt inside ten minutes with Worcester conceding four early penalties and seeing hooker Niall Annett sin-binned for an illegal tackle as Exeter mounted relentless pressure. And it was Gray who pounced from close range, opening Exeter’s account through a try that owed everything to Chiefs’ revered forward power, with Simmonds converting.
Worcester could not escape from their own half, and Exeter struck again in the 14th minute after Hogg created space through some neat footwork before Whitten touched down following Sam Simmonds’ assist, and Joe Simmonds added the touchline conversion.
The Warriors’ problems deepened when fly-half Billy Searle was forced off injured, but they dug deep and carved open Exeter’s defence with a fine 29th-minute try. Wing Perry Humphreys was the architect, changing the angle of an attack by delivering an exquisite pass to Morris, who sprinted clear and claimed his first Premiership try.
Weir, a replacement for Searle eight minutes earlier, kicked the conversion and Worcester were back in contention before he landed a penalty that further cut the deficit by half-time. It was a curious opening 40 minutes from the Chiefs as they saw a dominant opening give way to a combination of Worcester’s recovery and their own mistakes.
But the visitors made a flying start to the second period, with Gray’s pass opening up space before a sharp break by Devoto took him over for Exeter’s third try, converted by Simmonds. Devoto was then sin-binned, though, for a high tackle as Worcester tried to respond and the Warriors pounced after defensive hesitancy from Chiefs wing Olly Woodburn saw Weir capitalise and collect a try that he also converted.
Weir could have cut the gap even further, but he drifted a straightforward penalty chance wide and Exeter were able to close out the game, albeit without reasserting anything like their first-half authority.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 29, 2021
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