Exeter head coach Ali Hepher praised the impact of man of the match Sam Simmonds as his side beat Harlequins 22-19 at Sandy Park. England number eight Simmonds was out of action for eight months after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament before making a comeback at the back end of last season.
But the 24-year-old was back to his best in a barnstorming display at Sandy Park and Hepher was also pleased with his side’s overall performance. “His pace is a key factor and he looked like he was at a different level to a lot of guys on that field today,” said Hepher.
“His injection of speed when the ball was in his hands was fantastic for us and we need to make sure that we are getting him into good positions and getting him on the ball more regularly by retaining possession. I’m delighted to see him up and running. We always thought this season we’d see the best of him again because it’s always tough coming back from injury at the back end of a season with limited game time.
“We did expect it to be this tight. They are a top-six side and we knew we would have to be on top of our game to handle them. The important thing for us was making sure we stuck on task. There were a couple of times where we didn’t do that. We’ve got plenty to work on but it’s nice to get off the mark with four points.”
A first-half try from Jonny Hill and 17 points from the boot of Joe Simmonds was enough to get last season’s beaten finalists over the line. Harlequins claimed a losing bonus point with a brace of tries from Gabriel Ibitoye while Marcus Smith kicked nine points.
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The visitors started strongly with Ibitoye having a try disallowed at the far left-hand corner due to his foot being in touch. Smith and Simmonds exchanged penalties before Ibitoye scored for real after a quickly taken penalty from Martin Landajo.
Hill hit back with an Exeter try from short range meaning the Chiefs led 13-11 at the interval. Six further points from Simmond’s boot in the second-half was enough for Exeter despite Ibitoye scoring a late try. “We have to look at the positives in the game,” said Harlequins head of rugby Paul Gustard.
“I haven’t actually (seen it). That might be something to do to get my head around it"
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“There was a lot of positives but there were also two or three things which didn’t go our way. On many occasions the ball didn’t quite stick, we had a try disallowed in the first few minutes and in the last minutes of the game we still had the courage to play and challenge the Exeter defence which is pleasing.
“I thought Gabriel Ibitoye was excellent. He’s been working hard on his defensive positioning and his one on one tackles plus his aerial game because going forward he is special. We want to be an attacking side and we want to challenge sides.”
WATCH: Harlequins’ Paul Gustard sat down with RugbyPass ahead of the new Gallagher Premiership season
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