Exeter Chiefs gather momentum in Cup with win over Ospreys despite error-strewn display
Exeter Chiefs' superior strength in depth got them through a difficult LV= Cup game against Ospreys at Sandy Park this weekend.
Chiefs' squad has proven its potency over recent seasons with their progress in the A League, winning the competition last term while regularly inflicting more than 40 points their opponents this season.
They have relied upon many of those men in the LV= Cup so far to good effect in games against London Welsh and Ospreys.
Having beaten the Exiles so convincingly at Kassam Stadium last weekend, their 23-13 win over the RaboDirect Pro 12 title holders on Saturday was a relative disappointment.
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This was a game full of errors, one that Chiefs won mainly because their fringe players playing short of their best adds up to more than Ospreys' players doing the same.
Whichever Chiefs side takes to the field, there is always a certain hunger to their game. All of them firmly believe they are a good game or two away from a regular starting place.
Giant lock Will Carrick-Smith showed his growing potential, with his second try in as many games while full-back Myles Dorrian scored their only other touchdown.
Jack Nowell perhaps caught the eye more than most with another performance of poise and class. Last week, he excelled at full-back but he showed just as much ability on the wing against the Welsh side.
Another young man with vast promise, fly-half Henry Slade, kicked 13 points with the boot, the first of which coming after just two minutes.
Chiefs won a penalty from their first ball carry and they opted to kick for the posts, allowing Slade to open the scoring.
His side's performance was already far from flawless, however. Indeed, both teams contributed equally to forgettable opening ten minutes.
And it was not just the younger players who struggled to find their flow. Chiefs skipper Junior Poluleuligaga saw his mind's eye moving faster than his hands on numerous occasions.
Scruffy work from the Chiefs inside their own 22 presented the Welsh side with an opportunity that No.8 Morgan Allen was only too happy to take, crashing over for the game's first try before fly-half Sam Davies added the conversion.
It marked the start of a rare dominant period for Ospreys, but having contained their hosts for 15 minutes, Chiefs ventured forward, winning a second penalty.
Slade summed up his side's start by slicing his kick wide to the left of the posts from just outside Ospreys' 22.
That passage of play at least gave the Devon men something to build on and a sense of cohesion slowly returned.
Some strong running from another impressive young player Dave Ewers set up a maul which came within a metre of the try line.
It took Carrick-Smith to add the final yard or two for the try with Slade then adding the conversion from right in front of the posts.
Ospreys drew level soon enough with a long-range penalty and it was the least goal-kicker Davies' side deserved up to that point in the game.
It did get better from Chiefs as they approached the half-time break. They earned their second try with a minute remaining. The impetus came from Nowell with some piercing runs into Ospreys territory. Dorrian then showed good instincts once in range, sliding in for Chiefs' second try.
A late drop goal attempt from Davies – his second attempt of the half – failed to reduce the seven-point deficit for his side before the teams left the field.
Another Slade penalty drifted wide of the posts at the start of the second half before Davies showed his opposite number how it should be done in the 51st minute, bring his side back within four points.
A subsequent period of pressure from Chiefs demonstrated how easy it could of been with a prolonged error-free spell, but a knock-on from Carrick-Smith as he tried to take the ball at pace in front of the try line denied them a third try.
Fortunately, the referee had already spotted an infringement and Slade put his side seven points in front from close range. He added three more with less than 15 minutes remaining and Exeter looked relatively safe for the first time in the match.
However, it was still a tough final ten minutes for Chiefs who lost Ewers to injury after making all their replacements. One of those who came on, hooker Neil Clark, was then shown a yellow card for a dangerous tackle, leaving his side briefly down to 13 men.
The Chiefs did what good sides do in the circumstances and lead Pool One. Head coach Rob Baxter must now decide if some of the more prominent performers deserve a chance when they return to Premiership action at London Irish this weekend.