Magnificent performance by Steenson inspires Exeter Chiefs to double over leaders Quins
An inspired performance by Gareth Steenson secured Exeter Chiefs one of the greatest wins in the club's history as they completed the league double over defending Aviva Premiership champions Harlequins.
The 28-year-old has been unfairly criticised in the past for being a one-trick pony – a superb goalkicker with little else to his game – but the hero of Exeter's promotion-winning season in 2010 shoved those harsh words firmly down the throats of his detractors with a stunning all-round performance on Saturday.
It was so good that I am sure it was noted back in his native Ireland, where head coach Declan Kidney appears to be struggling for a suitable replacement for injured fly-half Jonny Sexton for their remaining two games in the RBS Six Nations Championship.
Steenson was again immaculate with the boot, slotting six out of seven kicks at goal for another 17-point haul, to add to his 22 against London Welsh the previous week, but that was overshadowed by the other elements of his performance at The Stoop.
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His game management was virtually faultless, bar one charged-down kick in the second half on his own 22 that had a few alarm bells ringing in the visiting camp.
However, it was a couple of excellent line breaks by the former Cornish Pirates ace to get Chiefs into dangerous attacking positions – one which produced a try and one which should have done – that got most tongues wagging.
Steenson would be the first to admit, though, that it was far from being a one-man show against a Quins side who had lost only once at home in the league all season, and suffered just one defeat in 13 games in all competitions.
Admittedly, they were missing England quartet Danny Care, Chris Robshaw, Joe Marler and Mike Brown, but that was easily counter-balanced by an Exeter injury list containing Tom Johnson, Jason Shoemark, Hoani Tui, Dean Mumm, Brett Sturgess and Chris Whitehead to name but a few – absenteeism that saw head coach Rob Baxter hand a first Premiership start to 23-year-old tight-head prop Alex Brown.
Despite coming up against the Premiership leaders, it was almost a must-win game for the Chiefs if they were to realistically keep alive their hopes of a top-six finish and a place in next season's Heineken Cup, especially after the previous night's defeats for fourth-placed Gloucester and Wasps in fifth, which gave Exeter an extra incentive.
They must have taken confidence from the fact they had beaten Harlequins 42-28 at Sandy Park in October, but they had never won at the Stoop, and a losing bonus point seemed to be the height of expectation among even the most loyal of their supporters before the contest.
Even that seemed a tall order after only six minutes, when the Quins carved open Exeter's midfield after good line-out ball inside the visitors' 22, with former England centre Jordan Turner-Hall picking out onrushing fellow international Ugo Monye, who raced in for his fifth league try of the season, converted by fly-half Nick Evans.
However, Exeter responded so well to that devastating early setback that, by the time the game had reached the half-hour mark, Steenson had punished Quins' indiscretions three times to put the Chiefs 9-7 ahead.
Evans did not look fit on his return from an ankle injury, but after missing one 40-metre kick, he did slot a simple 15-metre penalty to put the hosts 10-9 up at the break, but Exeter had their noses in front again four minutes into the second period with another Steenson three-pointer.
Two penalties by replacement Ben Botica in the space of four minutes had Quins back in the driving seat at 16-12, and many expected them to pull clear against their gallant opponents, but Exeter were having none of it.
Steenson banged over his fifth penalty, followed by a fine piece of skill which saw him open up the Quins' defence on halfway and race clear.
He linked with Ian Whitten, who fed the ball on to Matt Jess, but Luke Arscott failed to hold on to what surely would have been a try-scoring pass, and left many questioning whether Exeter's best chance had just bitten the turf.
Only four minutes later though, another incisive break by Steenson set up the position from which Exeter worked a try for lock Damian Welch – his second in two games – and the Chiefs were back in front.
Steenson was surprisingly off target with the conversion – his first miss in 16 kicks at goal, but Exeter kept on coming.
Only a last-gasp tackle prevented impressive teenage wing Jack Nowell from scoring again, before Arscott sealed victory six minutes from time, scooping up Botica's 22-metre drop out and staking his own international claims with some classy footwork to shred the Quins' defence and crown it all off with a swallow-dive in behind the posts, leaving Steenson with the simplest of conversions.
The celebrations said it all.
Another fabulous day in the history of Exeter Chiefs, who are now only five points outside the top six, with five games to play.