Under-strength Exeter Chiefs gain revenge for Premiership loss with dominant win at London Welsh
Exeter Chiefs pulled off the shock of this season's LV= Cup so far by thumping Aviva Premiership rivals London Welsh in Oxford yesterday.
The Chiefs left out all the players who had started their league match against Worcester the previous weekend, while Welsh only made five changes from the side that had defeated Bath 16-9 and looked considerably stronger on paper.
Yet the Chiefs ran in six tries to secure the bonus point and exact sweet revenge for their disappointing 25-24 league defeat at Welsh in September.
Just before kick-off, a fly-past took place to mark Remembrance Sunday, but many in the main stand, where all the spectators were sat, could not see it due to the roofline.
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Exeter handed first-team debuts to four youngsters in their starting line-up – Will Carrick-Smith, Joel Conlon, Justin Blanchet and Henry Slade – while a further six came off the replacements' bench.
Welsh took the lead with a seventh-minute penalty by former Scotland fly-half Gordon Ross, given for handling on the floor, but Exeter struck back with a period of intense pressure on the home line.
They were denied a try when referee Ian Davies deemed they had been held up over the line, but he went back for a penalty, slotted by 19-year-old fly-half Slade to level matters.
Exeter seemingly had a case for crossing the whitewash five minutes later when wing Mark Foster wriggled over in the corner, but the referee decided against consulting with the television match official and gave a scrum instead.
Welsh edged back in front in the 26th minute when Ross slotted a simple penalty for a scrum offence, but again the Chiefs' response was impressive.
They piled into attack, and this time skipper Junior Poluleuligaga's long, looping pass was gathered by 20-year-old lock Carrick-Smith – one of the tallest players in a Premiership squad at 6ft 10in – and he lolloped over from a couple of metres out for his first try for Exeter. Plymouth-born Slade missed the difficult conversion from out wide, but Exeter had an 8-6 lead.
Another chance for the visitors went begging moments later when Cornish Pirates' dual-registered centre Sam Hill burst through a tackle, but his offload was dropped by fellow midfield man Myles Dorrian only 15 metres out and with one man to beat.
Handling on the floor by Carrick-Smith gave Welsh a penalty just before half-time, which Ross slotted from 40 metres, to give the hosts a slender one-point lead, but the Exeter youngster almost made amends from the restart when his storming run was halted inches short of the line.
Despite the distraction of an impromptu fireworks display going off in the distance, Slade banged Exeter back in front with a 40-metre penalty four minutes into the second period, before moments later, pinning Welsh back deep inside their own 22 with a massive touch-finder.
Six minutes later, Exeter bagged their second try when a superb dummy by Hill created the space for Foster to race in unopposed, and Hill's England Under-20 team-mate Slade confidently converted for an 18-9 advantage.
Former New Zealand Maori tight-head prop Hoani Tui made a first appearance of the campaign for Exeter in the 55th minute, coming on for Chris Budgen, having been ruled out since pre-season by a hamstring injury.
Exeter, though, gave Welsh a way back into the game by conceding two penalties in the space of four minutes just before the hour mark, both immaculately slotted by Ross, to leave the Chiefs only three points ahead.
However, Exeter continued to show great belief and moved two scores clear again in the 65th minute with their third try of the contest.
An incisive run by another of Exeter's England Under-20 contingent, full-back Jack Nowell, took the Chiefs deep into the opposition 22, and, after the forwards had rattled through a couple more phases, the ball was moved swiftly left, where Dorrian's pass put over Nowell in the corner.
Three minutes later, the win was almost assured as French wing Nic Sestaret forced his way over for a bonus-point try, and Slade's superb conversion put Exeter into an incredible 30-15 lead.
Sestaret then put the result beyond all doubt by skating in for his second touchdown five minutes later, and a fine solo effort by hugely impressive man-of-the-match Nowell, converted by Slade, completed the scoring to leave Welsh totally stunned.