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Exeter Chiefs refuse to lie down as third consecutive win proves their Premiership mettle

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 03, 2012

Exeter fly-half Gareth Steenson  is tackled by Simon McIntyre during the 30-23 Aviva Premiership victory for the Chiefs against Wasps at Sandy Park on Saturday evening. Picture: Phil Mingo/Pinnacle

Exeter fly-half Gareth Steenson is tackled by Simon McIntyre during the 30-23 Aviva Premiership victory for the Chiefs against Wasps at Sandy Park on Saturday evening. Picture: Phil Mingo/Pinnacle

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Fortress Sandy Park survived a difficult afternoon when Wasps came to visit at the weekend.

Exeter Chiefs' third consecutive Aviva Premiership win now means the big boys had better start taking them seriously.

After last week's first away win of their league season at the Madejski Stadium over London Irish, it seemed inevitable Chiefs' unbeaten run at home would be challenged.

However, the Devon men overcame Wasps – and some unfortunate officiating from referee Andrew Small – through tries from Chris Whitehead, Haydn Thomas and Phil Dollman.

This win leaves them just five points off the top of table ahead of a three-week break for European competition.

Many within the Chiefs' camp have spoken of their pride in maintaining such a formidable home record this season – the start they made on Saturday proved the truth in those sentiments.

They were sharp and full of aggression. Visiting scrum-half Joe Simpson saw his attempted box kick charged down and the home side snatched possession and probed along Wasps' 22. They eventually drew a penalty which Gareth Steenson kicked between the posts to give his side an early lead.

Their advantage lasted just three minutes, however. Wasps came straight back from the restart with a series of powerful ball carries from the likes of Billy Vunipola and Tom Palmer. Chiefs' back-row Dean Mumm was penalised for not rolling away and Wasps' Lee Thomas pulled his side level.

The Chiefs maintained their early intensity and earned a shot at goal from a similar infringement, allowing Steenson to kick well from just inside his own half.

Wasps' ability to break through Chiefs' tackles was a concern in the opening half. And the ever-present threat of prolific wings Christian Wade and Tom Varndell perhaps led to gaps opening up elsewhere along Chiefs' defensive line.

Centre Lee Thomas exploited the situation and made good ground with the Chiefs then scrambling to prevent Varndell scoring in the left corner.

But there seemed little anyone could do to stop Elliot Daly, who took Billy Vunipola's smart offload at pace. The young centre showed impressive speed to cross the try line to the right of the posts with Thomas converting.

Chiefs' vulnerability encouraged Wasps to apply more pressure and they broke into the Chiefs' 22 once more, earning another penalty for Thomas to score from close range after the hosts strayed offside.

It took some individual brilliance from Steenson to stop the momentum building against further still. His superb break from inside his own half seemed destined for the try line, once he moved the ball on to Dollman on his left shoulder.

He was caught by Wade and Simpson killed the ball, allowing Wasps to regroup but he received a yellow card for his troubles.

The hosts kicked the subsequent penalty for touch, won the line-out and produced an unstoppable drive for the line, finished by Whitehead. Steenson then converted and somehow Chiefs were level once again.

More missed tackles, this time on the slippery Wade, caused problems for Chiefs once more.

The pass that eventually put Varndell in for his side's second try was thrown forward, but man-in-the-middle Small failed to spot the infringement.

Thomas added the conversion and his side might have thought the Chiefs' spirit had been broken at last.

But as so many have found since Exeter's promotion to the Premiership in 2010, the Chiefs tend to punish any mental lapses from their opponents.

They responded immediately and a five-metre scrum created the perfect scenario for the quick-thinking Thomas to dart in off the back and score under the posts. Steenson added the conversion and both sides left the field at the half-time break with 20 points apiece.

Steenson hit the left post with a penalty early in the second half but Wasps were down to 14 men once more on 50 minutes when Daly brought down Nowell off the ball after another excellent break in midfield from the teenager.

Steenson scored the resulting penalty to give them a slender advantage and they extended it on hour mark as they maintained their grip on the game rather more tightly in the second half compared with the first.

The forwards looked to batter their way over the line but having drawn so may Wasps to the ball, space appeared out wide for Dollman who was found expertly with a with a chipped kick towards the right touchline from full-back Luke Arscott.

From there, Chiefs never looked like surrendering their ten-point advantage. They chased the fourth try for the bonus point but only succeeded in putting themselves under pressure.

Replacement Tommy Bell struck a penalty to give Wasps a losing bonus point but Chiefs backed up their first away win last week with yet another at home.

The Chiefs travel to Kingsholm on December 22, when league action resumes. In their current form, Gloucester would do well not to underestimate them.

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