Exeter too good for Wasps
PREMIERSHIP SUNDAY WRAP: Olly Woodburn paved the way for a superb Exeter Chiefs victory over Wasps, with the Premiership champions prevailing 31-17 at Sandy Park.
A repeat of last year’s final – which was only decided by Gareth Steenson’s extra-time penalty – this clash was far more convincing from the Chiefs, who claimed a try-bonus point after Woodburn scored twice and Dave Dennis, Don Armand and Shaun Malton all also crossed.
Meanwhile, Rob Horne stole the limelight with a pair of dazzling tries to put London Irish to the sword and continue Northampton Saints' resurgence.
Exeter Chiefs 31-17 Wasps
The hosts set out as they meant to continue early on and put massive pressure on the Wasps line for the opening eight minutes, which eventually paid dividends despite strong defence from the visitors.
Dai Young's side committed men up front and two flat passes from Gareth Steenson and Lachie Turner spread the ball wide for Olly Woodburn to finish easily in the left corner.
Gareth Steenson's conversion attempt drifted wide and Wasps hit straight back; a botched line-out from the visitors saw Sam Skinner disrupt, but Ashley Johnson was the beneficiary as he reacted quicker than anybody else to snatch up the loose ball and charge over the line – Jimmy Gopperth adding the extras.
Another penalty from Gopperth, wearing the No.10 jersey, stretched the lead as Exeter were pinged for tackling a man off the ball in a line-out.
But it was the Kiwi's mistake that cost Wasps a score as he cleared long – but out on the full – and with the ball taken back inside the 22 Exeter made him pay, with Dave Dennis holding off a couple of tackles rumbling over from the line-out.
The wind again affected Steenson's touchline conversion attempt to leave the scores locked at 10-10 on 20 minutes, but Chiefs were soon out in front as Henry Slade found Don Armand and the flank produced a wonderful finish.
He smashed through Rob Miller and Josh Bassett to somehow dot down in the right corner, and it was third time lucky for Steenson with the extras from the touchline.
And two more tries either side of half-time sealed the bonus point and put the Chiefs in a commanding position.
First Slade got the better of Christian Wade with a break down the left, showing outside but delivering the ball on a plate for Woodburn inside him to score, before replacement Shaun Malton scored his first Premiership try on the hour mark.
Nothing was going Wasps' way with the usually metronomic Gopperth missing a penalty from in front of the posts, but Josh Bassett did give them a sniff with a try after Joe Simpson broke clear.
But a professional job from the Chiefs in the closing stages saw out the win, their third league triumph in a row moving them top of the table.
For Exeter Chiefs:
Tries: Woodburn 2, Dennis, Armand, Malton
Cons: Steenson 3
Tries: Johnson, Bassett
Cons: Gopperth 2
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Lachie Turner, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Gareth Steenson (captain), 9 Nic White, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Don Armand, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Sam Skinner, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Elvis Taione, 1 Carl Rimmer.
Replacements: 16 Shaun Malton, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Toby Salmon, 20 Julian Salvi, 21 Stuart Townsend, 22 Tom Hendrickson, 23 Max Bodilly.
Wasps: 15 Rob Miller, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Juan De Jongh, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 James Haskell, 6 Ashley Johnson, 5 Matt Symons, 4 Joe Launchbury (captain), 3 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 2 Tom Cruse, 1 Matt Mullan.
Replacements: 16 Jack Willis, 17 Simon McIntyre, 18 Marty Moore, 19 Will Rowlands, 20 Thomas Young, 21 Craig Hampson, 22 Brendan Macken, 23 Marcus Watson.
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant referees: Christophe Ridley, Simon McConnell
TMO: Graham Hughes
London Irish 25-40 Northampton Saints
Jim Mallinder's side streaked into the lead in style, with tries from Nic Groom, Rob Horne's classy double, and one for Mikey Haywood.
Alex Lewington lit up the second half with his scorching try but George North was able to saunter over to peg the hosts back once again.
Tommy Bell retaliated to threaten a fightback, but Jacobus Reinach's late score was enough to secure Saints' first Premiership away win in four attempts, despite Josh McNally’s consolation.
Northampton set out their stall early on in the match with a sweeping move that saw North break down the right before the ball found its way to Groom for an easy run-in.
Five minutes later it was Horne's turn to go over, the Australian collected the ball in the Exiles half and scythed his way through the defence to score under the posts.
Tommy Bell got a penalty back but then Horne scored an even better try, handing off Franco van der Merwe and bulldozing his way over James Marshall to complete his double.
The bonus point was secured after just 32 minutes, with Haywood rumbling over with the Saints pack in tow.
After the interval Lewington responded with a fine individual effort, beating Horne with an outside break and somehow scrambling through the defence to cross the whitewash.
Minutes later North strolled in for Saints’ fifth try, but at the other end Blair Cowan through a wonderful looping pass to give Bell this easiest try of the afternoon.
The Exiles battered away at the Northampton defence but the Saints stood stall, Reinach streaked away for the visitors' sixth try, making McNally’s late effort a consolation.
For London Irish:
Tries: Lewington, Bell, McNally
Cons: Bell, Tonks
Pens: Bell 2
For Northampton Saints:
Tries: Groom, Horne 2, Haywood, North, Reinach
Cons: Mallinder 5
London Irish: 15 Tommy Bell, 14 Alex Lewington, 13 Aseli Tikoirotuma, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 James Marshall, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Blair Cowan, 7 Conor Gilsenan, 6 Josh McNally, 5 Sebastian De Chaves, 4 Franco van der Merwe, 3 Petrus Du Plessis, 2 Dave Porecki, 1 Ben Franks (captain).
Replacements: 16 David Paice, 17 Harry Elrington, 18 Ollie Hoskins, 19 Teofilo Paulo, 20 Jake Schatz, 21 Scott Steele, 22 Greig Tonks, 23 Topsy Ojo.
Northampton Saints: 15 Ahsee Tuala, 14 George North, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Tom Collins, 10 Harry Mallinder, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Sam Dickinson, 7 Jamie Gibson, 6 Courtney Lawes (captain), 5 David Ribbans, 4 Michael Paterson, 3 Paul Hill, 2 Mikey Haywood, 1 Alex Waller.
Replacements: 16 Reece Marshall, 17 Campese Ma’afu, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 Christian Day, 20 Ben Nutley, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 James Grayson, 23 Ben Foden.
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant referees: Jack Makep
TMO: Sean Davey