Red letter warm-up day for Exeter Chiefs at Parc Y Scarlets
ON the weekend when Mo Farah and Usain Bolt proved they were on the right track in Russia, Exeter Chiefs are up and running as they kicked off their pre-season campaign with victory in Wales.
Having defeated the Scarlets twice in last season’s Heineken Cup, Rob Baxter’s side proved too strong for the Welsh region as they secured a 23-15 success at Parc Y Scarlets.
A converted try in each half from Damian Welch and Will Carrick-Smith, coupled with kicks from Gareth Steenson and Henry Slade, ensured the ideal start for the Devon club.
With head coach Baxter having strengthened his resources this summer with six new faces – as well as the imminent arrival of Maori lock Romana Graham – it was only Tom James of the new stock that was given a starting role.
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Aside from the Welsh international who has joined from Cardiff Blues, the Chiefs had a familiar look to their line-up that took to the field in the Principality. However, it was the home side who made the brighter start to this contest.
The Scarlets broke the deadlock early on when fly-half Steve Shingler fired them in front with a penalty, this after the Chiefs had survived an early raid from flanker Dan Thomas, who was somehow held up on the line by a combination of Exeter defenders.
Shingler, back in Llanelli for a second time following a short stint in the Aviva Premiership with London Irish, had the chance to double his tally shortly after when the Chiefs were penalised at scrum time, but this time he shanked his kick wide of the left post.
The Chiefs needed to respond and after a spell of concerted pressure deep inside home territory, they drew level when the right boot of Steenson fired them on terms with a penalty after the home side were penalised for straying offside in front of the posts.
The visitors began to crank up the pace in the difficult and wet conditions. Sharp handling, together with powerful approach play, paid dividends for the Chiefs and it was not long before they took the lead.
Indeed, the first try arrived when a quick free-kick from Will Chudley released Steenson into space and the Irishman tore down field before offloading to compatriot Ian Whitten, who was held just short of the line following a powerful charge of his own.
Chudley, though, was again quickly on the scene at the breakdown and his simple pop pass back inside allowed former Scarlets player Welch to flop over from close range.
Steenson obliged with the extras before adding a penalty as the Chiefs stormed into a ten-point lead with a second penalty on 20 minutes.
Sadly the Chiefs failed to build on that early ascendancy and over the remaining minutes of the first half, they allowed their Welsh hosts to claim a slender lead by the half-time break.
First, scrum-half Gareth Davies found his way over the whitewash after he sniped off the back of a Scarlets maul to claim their first try, which Shingler duly converted.
Then with the last action of the half, a well-created move enabled the Welshmen to create an overlap wide on the left that wing Jordan Williams exploited to slide over in the left corner to make it 15-13.
Baxter, as expected, utilised his squad to the full during the second period, making 13 changes at half-time. Only James and Whitten remained.
It was one of those newcomers, England Under-20s starlet Slade, that kicked the Chiefs back in front eight minutes into the second period when he thundered over a 40-metre penalty after the Scarlets were pulled up for infringing at a ruck.
Shortly after and the Chiefs could have added to their advantage as a series of pick-and-go raids from the pack saw them punch themselves to within inches of the line. Just as the visitors look set to pounce they infringed and the chance was lost.
At the other end, the Scarlets threatened when Gareth Maule cut a lovely line through the heart of the Chiefs midfield, only to be thwarted by some excellent defence from Phil Dollman.
The introduction of hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie into the fray certainly gave some late impetus to the Exeter cause. The young Cornishman, one of five Chiefs who sealed Junior World Championship success with England during the summer, wasted little time in showcasing his talents with some bulldozing runs and a catalogue of big hits.
It was his efforts that helped win the turnover from which the Chiefs claimed their second try. With the ball having been stolen, lock Tom Hayes demonstrated his kicking prowess with a punt to the corner. Although wing Aaron Warren raced across to cover the danger as Fetu’u Vainikolo closed in, the resultant line-out gave the Chiefs the platform.
Working the ball infield through a series of drives, the visitors masterfully created the opening for Ben White to feed the towering Carrick-Smith to dot down in the corner. Slade nudged over the touchline conversion.