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Exeter hold on to beat Harlequins in thriller

Published 28/11/2015

Gareth Steenson scored 21 points for Exeter
Gareth Steenson scored 21 points for Exeter

Exeter held on to second place in the Aviva Premiership after fly-half Gareth Steenson inspired a gripping 26-25 victory over Harlequins at rain-swept Sandy Park.

Steenson scored 21 points from a try, four penalties and two conversions, while wing James Short claimed a first-half touchdown, although Quins will feel frustrated that they did not triumph.

The Londoners collected two bonus points, with an early penalty try being followed by scores for fly-half Nick Evans, Charlie Walker and his fellow wing Tim Visser, with Evans adding a penalty and conversion.

But despite trailing by just two points at half-time after playing into a strong wind, Quins could not make the elements count, and their misery was completed when substitute Tim Swiel missed an angled penalty three minutes from time.

Exeter have not lost at home in the Premiership since early January, and they will feel relieved to have extended that record, especially after seeing replacement flanker Tom Johnson sin-binned for a technical offence during the closing stages.

Exeter showed a number of changes from the side that defeated European Champions Cup opponents Bordeaux-Begles last weekend, but they were rapidly into their stride as Steenson booted a second-minute penalty after Quins were guilty of making immediate basic errors.

But the visitors responded impressively as their forwards made headway and established a series of attacking scrums that ended with referee Matt Carley running out of patience with Chiefs' front-row and awarding Quins a penalty try that Evans converted for a 7-3 advantage.

Despite playing into a strong first-half wind, Quins did not lack a sense of adventure or opportunism, and they posted a second try after 14 minutes following Steenson's second successful penalty strike.

England scrum-half Danny Care was the creator, kicking cleverly behind Exeter's front-line defence, and the ball bounced kindly for Evans, who gathered and finished off wide out.

Evans' conversion attempt was held up by the wind, before Steenson completed his penalty hat-trick, but the game's topsy-turvy nature continued at pace as Quins claimed their third try.

Once again, the visiting pack built strong foundations, and when possession was quickly moved wide, Walker finished one-handed in the corner to open up a 17-9 advantage.

Quins, though, proved to be their own worst enemies during the closing seven minutes of an opening period when neither side could establish real dominance.

A fourth Steenson penalty cut the gap to five points, which was the cue for Quins to attempt possession rugby and close out the half, but it backfired when Exeter secured turnover ball.

The Chiefs had little hesitation in spinning possession wide, and Short scampered over for a try that Steenson converted for a 19-17 interval lead, although unhappy Quins skipper Care remonstrated with Carley as the teams trooped off.

Evans then required less than two minutes of the second period to put Quins back in front courtesy of a close-range penalty, and with weather conditions showing no sign of improving, the visitors knew it would be all about a territory game.

They did not bank, though, on Exeter's forwards suddenly increasing the tempo, and some thrilling break-out play meant Quins' defence did not have time to regroup and Steenson scooted through a gap for his team's second try, before the successful conversion made it 26-20 approaching the final quarter.

But Exeter were immediately reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes substitute hooker Elvis Taione was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle on Quins prop Mark Lambert, and the visitors' fourth try arrived just two minutes later.

There was a touch of good fortune about it as full-back Mike Brown's kicked bounced off the corner flag and Visser gratefully accepted his opportunity, but Exeter stayed ahead after Swiel, who was on for an injured Evans, saw a touchline conversion attempt drift narrowly wide, and the Chiefs held on.

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