London Welsh gain opening Premiership victory with fine fightback against Chiefs
If anyone knows how dangerous the new kids on the block can be, then Exeter Chiefs should know better than anybody.
Two years ago it was Rob Baxter's side causing a stir in the Aviva Premiership when they overcame the renowned Gloucester in their first-ever top flight fixture.
Now, present day, it's the turn of London Welsh to take on the role of the division's underdogs and look to upset the great and good of the English game.
Sadly for the Chiefs their first trip to the Kassam Stadium ended in misery as a late converted try from Ed Jackson proved sufficient for the Exiles to claim their maiden Premiership scalp.
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The No.8 was able to drive over with just two minutes remaining to seal a memorable afternoon for Welsh, who had earlier hit back valiantly from going 14-0 down to scores further points through a penalty try, Nick Scott touchdown and eight points from fly-half Gordon Ross.
While Welsh were left to celebrate, coach Baxter was left to reflect on a disappointing day's work from his troops, who had earlier shot out of the traps thanks to converted tries from Luke Arscott and Matt Jess. No.8 Richard Baxter claimed their third touchdown early in the second half, with the rest of the points shared between the boots of Ignacio Mieres and Gareth Steenson.
Ahead of the game, the Chiefs were forced to make one change to their starting line-up from that which was narrowly defeated by Northampton Saints the week previous. The change came in the back division where Fijian international Sireli Naqelevuki was promoted from the bench to fill the void left by Josh Tatupu; while on the bench there were inclusions for Carl Rimmer and Jack Nowell for the first time in the top flight.
In a bright opening to the game, it was the home side who offered the first real threat when a clever kick-chase saw Chiefs' full-back Luke Arscott snagged on his own try-line as he looked to clear the danger from a Mieres pass.
However, it was from the resultant scrum that Exeter struck with deadly effect as Ian Whitten intercepted a pass from Tyson Keats to go haring down the left flank. The Irishman was eventually halted halfway down the field, but the Chiefs recycled the ball at pace back inside through James Scaysbrook, Brett Sturgess and Jess to Arscott, who was able to fly over for the game's opening try.
Mieres dispatched the conversion with aplomb, before adding the extras to Exeter's second score which arrived five minutes later when a storming charge from Naqelevuki saw him leave a trail of defenders in his wake before offering a simple offload to Jess, who was able to race in for his fourth try of the season.
At 14-0 up, it was the perfect start for Baxter's side. However, Exeter's bubble was about to burst as the Exiles came storming back into the contest with two tries of their own in a seven-minute period.
Their opener came on 15 minutes when after needlessly conceded penalty on halfway, Welsh drove off the ensuing line-out deep inside the Chiefs 22. Initially the home threat was repelled by some good defence, but as numerous Exeter bodies spewed out of the side of the maul, so the red wave continued to drive forward with deadly effect.
With referee Dave Pearson growing inpatient with the tactics of the Chiefs to halt the maul, the official had eventually seen enough and duly awarded a penalty try, which former Scottish international Ross was converted with ease.
The score lifted Welsh, who then added to their tally on 22 minutes when Scott picked off Whitehead's intended pass to Tom Johnson, before galloping over half the pitch to score in the left corner.
Ross failed with the conversion attempt, plus a penalty on the half-hour mark. However, the home number ten made no mistake with his latest effort just before the break when he plundered a penalty from in front of the posts after Craig Mitchell was pulled off for dropping his bind at a scrum.
Even then the Chiefs could have restored their lead before the interval as the imposing Naqelevuki again dented the Welsh rearguard with some forceful running.
But just as the visitors were poised to strike, Pearson again ruled in favour of the hosts as he spotted a forward pass just yards from the home line.
With their ears no doubt ringing from an interval blast from coach Baxter, the Chiefs needed to get themselves back on track quickly with a big start to the second period. However, they lost Welsh international Mitchell to what looked a shoulder injury.
It meant a Premiership debut for summer signing Rimmer, who wasted little time in getting stuck into the action. The former Pirates prop quickly followed the lead of his fellow forwards, who set about laying siege on the home line with a series of attack.
The simple pick-and-go approach was working a treat for the Chiefs as they punched their way deep into the home 22, where upon No.8 Baxter was able to pump his legs sufficiently to drive over under the sticks for a third converted try.
Almost immediately the visitors gifted Welsh a foothold back into the game when Rimmer was pinged for going off his feet at a ruck and up stepped Ross to dispatch a second penalty.
With little to choose between the two sides, even the sight of England star Johnson departing the field on a stretcher did little to deter the Chiefs, who restored their six-point buffer when replacement Steenson fired over a penalty from 25 metres out.
As the clocked ticked towards a close, still the Chiefs looked to be in control. Welsh, on the other hand, had other ideas and have reclaimed possession close to halfway, they propelled themselves into one last throw of the dice.
The forwards did the donkey work with a string of close-in drives, but the Chiefs appeared defiant in their defence. That was until Jackson picked up from the base of a ruck five metres out.
His score heralded jubilation among the home ranks, but still they trailed by a point. It meant replacement Seb Jewell had to deliver the decisive blow and that he did as he stroked his kick between the posts to seal victory.