Chiefs top group after picking up losing bonus point
EXETER CHIEFS sit proudly on top of their Heineken Cup pool after grinding out what could prove to be a crucial losing bonus point in Glasgow.
They lead star-studded defending champions Toulon by virtue of having scored one more try, but the group is ridiculously tight.
One point covers all four teams, with Exeter facing back-to-back matches next up against Jonny Wilkinson's Toulon in December.
That vital try for Exeter came through man-of-the-moment Dave Ewers four minutes from time, when the Chiefs looked set to leave Scotland empty-handed.
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A touchdown from former Cornish Pirates flanker Tyrone Holmes, converted by Scottish international fly-half Ruaridh Jackson, four minutes earlier had given the Warriors an 11-point advantage their second-half efforts arguably deserved.
However, Exeter showed great character to battle back, and were rewarded with No.8 Ewers' first try of the season.
It is a sign of how far the Chiefs have come that there was a tinge of disappointment they were not going home with more than one point, despite facing a Glasgow match-day squad containing 18 full internationals, including three British Lions, who lead the RaboDirect Pro12 with five wins out of five, and who had won their last four home matches against English opposition in the Heineken Cup.
Their only defeat this season had been at Toulon last weekend, when even then they scored four tries against their illustrious opponents.
Yesterday's game could not have been in starker contrast to seven days before for the Chiefs, with the flowing rugby that crushed Cardiff Blues replaced by a war of attrition in the Glasgow gloom, as the rain poured down in the first half.
Glasgow perhaps showed more of an eagerness to run with their possession, but with that came handling mistakes and, when Exeter did try to attack, they foundered on a rock-solid defence.
Scrum time was also a frustration, with Frenchman Romain Poite – usually so hot on refereeing that area of the game – making some questionable decisions against Exeter in the second half.
The opening quarter was dominated by the goal-kickers, with Exeter fly-half Gareth Steenson slotting three penalties to two from Jackson to leave the Chiefs 9-6 up.
An injury to Irish wing Ian Whitten coincided with a yellow card for Steenson, for committing a professional foul inches from his own try line, and head coach Rob Baxter opted to throw on Henry Slade rather than Fetu'u Vainikolo, to ensure the Chiefs did not endure ten minutes without a decision-maker and recognised goal-kicker on the pitch.
Glasgow should have scored when No.8 Josh Strauss broke from a scrum inside Exeter's 22, but his pass inside was knocked on and the Chiefs came through the sin-bin period unscathed.
Exeter's three-point lead at the break was wiped out as former Newcastle lock Tim Swinson crashed over beneath the posts for a 48th-minute try, easily converted by Jackson, who moments earlier had missed a 40-metre penalty.
The Chiefs then lost England flanker Tom Johnson and scrum-half Dave Lewis to injuries, and Glasgow looked to have scored again in the 69th minute when Tommy Seymour dived over in the corner, but the try was chalked off by the television match official for a forward pass from Jackson.
Exeter's reprieve was short-lived, however, as Jackson sent in Holmes for his side's second try, and the former's touchline conversion put Glasgow firmly in the driving seat at 20-9.
There were still eight minutes left, though, for the Chiefs to salvage something, and, when they were awarded a penalty for offside, Slade kicked to the corner, Damian Welch won the line-out, and Ewers was driven over. Slade converted to set up an exciting finale, but Glasgow hung on.