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Why Quins have no regrets playing first-choice side in Exeter dead rubber

By PA
Alex Dombrandt of Harlequins walks down the tunnel of applause after their sides defeat during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Exeter Chiefs and Harlequins at Sandy Park on June 04, 2022 in Exeter, England. (Photo by Ryan Hiscott/Getty Images)

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Harlequins head coach Tabai Matson believes it was the correct decision to field a full-strength side in their 47-38 defeat to Exeter ahead of next week’s semi-final at Saracens.

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Whatever the result, Harlequins would still have finished third in the Gallagher Premiership, but they chose to risk injuries to ensure that they were battle-hardened for their challenging task at the StoneX stadium.

In a thrilling game of 13 tries, Quins came up just short, but a record crowd at Sandy Park were treated to some royal entertainment.

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Exeter’s tries came from Jonny Gray, Stuart Hogg, Ian Whitten, Jack Nowell, Marcus Street, Sam Maunder and Joe Simmonds, who added six conversions.

Will Evans, Joe Marchant, Aaron Morris, Louis Lynagh, Lewis Gjaltema and Tyrone Green scored tries for Harlequins. Marcus Smith converted three and Tommy Allan one.

Matson said: “We needed to play a full-strength side as we were not involved in Europe and had only played twice in the last five weeks.

“We were disappointed to lose Aaron Morris with another injury for him, but he’s optimistic that it’s not too serious, although he won’t be available next week so we got through relatively unscathed.

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“It was festival rugby, but we learnt a lot defensively as we were really tested by them as they are a phenomenal side who keep possession superbly.

“Our defence was excellent at times and it’s annoying that we didn’t come away with a losing bonus point, but immediately we have to move forward and focus on next week.

“It won’t be festival rugby next week as no doubt there will be a greater emphasis on physicality.”

Despite their impressive bonus-point win, Exeter still finished only seventh and so missed out on the play-offs for the first time since 2015.

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“Today was harum scarum, but even though it was a dead rubber with nothing to play for, I’m really chuffed that we fought right to the end and for once on the right side of the result in a close game to give us some momentum ahead of next season,” said head coach Ali Hepher.

“We had to overcome the bounce of the ball going their way a couple of times and the concession of a few soft tries.

“We’ve had a lot of things thrown at us this season and at times we found it really hard to believe that we were still in the mix.

“With a run of injuries and international call-ups we had to play props and hookers in the back five, which has never happened before.

“You don’t throw away a winning formula that has served us so well in the past six years, but it may need some fine tinkering as we have learnt from this season.”

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