A powerful second-half performance saw Exeter take victory over Glasgow Warriors at Sandy Park this evening, claiming a 52-17 win in Pool A of the Heineken Champions Cup.
Tries from Kiran McDonald and Matt Fagerson were scant consolation for the visitors, who now know that victory against La Rochelle is the only way to assure themselves of a place in the last-16 of Europe’s premier club competition.
The tone for proceedings was set inside the opening 90 seconds of the match, as the Warriors ensured their hosts knew they had come to play. A big double hit by McDonald and Zander Fagerson on Jack Maunder won an early turnover for the visitors, with Ross Thompson dispatching the resulting penalty into the Exeter 22.
It was from that initial penalty that the Warriors opened the scoring with six minutes on the clock; after being camped on the Exeter five-metre line, Thompson made no mistake when Exeter conceded another penalty, comfortably slotting the kick between the posts for a 3-0 lead.
Back came the hosts almost immediately, spending much of the next 10 minutes inside Glasgow territory. Only strong close-range maul defence from Scott Cummings and Matt Fagerson held out the home side, whilst Rory Darge and Jack Dempsey proved their worth at the breakdown with a couple of expertly-crafted turnovers.
Yet Glasgow were powerless to prevent the opening try of the match when it arrived on 19 minutes, with Exeter striking from first-phase ball. It would be Tom O’Flaherty who would duck inside the covering defence to finish after good work from Henry Slade and Joe Simmonds, the latter converting for a seven-point score.
Not content with one, the hosts would make it a quickfire double just five minutes later. In traditional Exeter fashion, Sam Simmonds found himself driven over the line from a close-range maul, brother Joe adding the extras to make it 14-3.
Momentum would shift back towards the visitors in the final 10 minutes of the opening period, with Darge providing the catalyst. The openside’s tenacity with ball in hand saw him beat two defenders, with Exeter jumping offside in defence as a result.
With Thompson turning down the shot at goal in favour of the kick to the corner, Glasgow made their intention clear. It proved to be the right call; whilst George Turner was stopped short after a rumbling maul, McDonald needed no second invitation when presented with a gap close to the line, diving over for his first European try. Thompson converted, narrowing the gap to four points at the half-time interval.
The second-half started brightly for the visitors, with Fraser Brown’s first involvement off the bench to assist Darge in winning a turnover on halfway. Indeed, it was the Warriors who would strike first in the second stanza, and in impressive fashion. Smart play from Josh McKay released Matt Fagerson down the touchline, with the back-rower taking play up to the Exeter 22. McKay and Kyle Steyn took up the mantle to take play to within five metres of the Exeter line, before Ali Price’s flat pass sent Fagerson crashing over from short-range. Thompson’s conversion gave the visitors the lead, taking the score to 17-14 with half an hour to play.
From then on, however, the 2020 European champions shifted gears. The home side restored their lead on 52 minutes, as Sam Simmonds found just enough power to touch down despite the big shot from McDonald, the conversion making it 21-17 in Exeter’s favour.
Four minutes later, O’Flaherty followed his team-mate’s lead in doubling up. With advantage in hand, Joe Simmonds’ cross-kick sat up kindly for the winger to dot down for the bonus-point score and a 28-17 lead.
Luke Cowan-Dickie touched down in traditional Exeter fashion on the hour mark to stretch the advantage further, and with a reshuffled Glasgow back-line beginning to look stretched the English outfit began to cut loose. O’Flaherty took full advantage to cross for his hat-trick score on 66 minutes, riding the challenge of three defenders to finish well in the corner.
Having seen his colleague on the wing grab three tries on the evening, Jack Nowell got in on the act with six minutes remaining, latching on to Henry Slade’s delayed pass to slide over for the score. With Simmonds having been replaced, Slade took over the kicking duties to extend the lead to 45-17.
The final word would go to the Exeter pack; on his 200th appearance for the Devonians, Dave Ewers would crash over to bring up a half-century, Slade’s conversion bringing the curtain down on proceedings at Sandy Park.
A chastening afternoon in Devon for the visitors, but the Warriors won’t have to wait long to redress the balance – a now-pivotal clash with La Rochelle awaits at Scotstoun in just a week’s time, as the hunt for a knockout place reaches its climax.
Kick-off 5:30 pm