Exeter clinch home Aviva Premiership semi-final by thrashing London Irish
The Chiefs ran in six converted tries to put further pressure on the lowly Exiles.
Sam Simmonds’ hat-trick sealed Exeter Chiefs a home Aviva Premiership semi-final as the league leaders thumped London Irish 45-5 to push the Exiles ever closer to relegation.
Reigning Premiership champions Exeter booked themselves home advantage in the fast-approaching play-offs, with Ben Moon, Mitch Lees and Jack Yeandle also crossing.
Exeter also took a step closer to topping the Premiership’s regular-season table, maintaining their eight-point advantage over second-placed Saracens.
Irish’s 17th defeat in 20 league matches leaves the bottom club staring down the barrel of a second Premiership relegation in three years.
New boss Declan Kidney surely cannot now save the Exiles, who trail Worcester by nine points with only a maximum 10 on offer in their final two matches.
Prolific England number eight Simmonds took his Premiership try tally to 12 for the season – just one behind the league’s top scorer, Worcester’s Josh Adams.
Thomas Waldrom has twice before topped the league’s scoring charts with Exeter, with 16 in 2015 and 13 a year later.
The 23-year-old Simmonds now has the chance to take up that baton, with clashes against Sale and Harlequins still to come.
Fly-half Gareth Steenson ended the day with a flawless 15-point return from the tee, underscoring Exeter’s effortless afternoon.
The Chiefs should have had the try bonus point sewn up after 36 minutes, only for Television Match Official (TMO) David Sainsbury to chalk off a score for Jack Nowell.
Sainsbury surprisingly judged Alex Lewington to have completed a tackle on Nowell, who was then pinged for not releasing. The Chiefs were already coasting in truth anyway, thanks to tries from Moon and Simmonds’ double.
Prop Moon was shunted over to start the glut, Nowell involved twice as Exeter quickly found pleasing attacking shape.
Ian Whitten then released the cantering Simmonds down the right flank and the pacy England number eight raced to the corner.
Exeter were punting kickable penalties to the corner as early as the half-hour, such was their dominance over the spirited but error-strewn Irish.
And Simmonds powered home from a driven lineout, before Nowell worked a minor piece of magic for that try that never stood.
Steenson opened the second half with a facile penalty, before Simmonds completed his treble off the back of a well-constructed attack, with Nowell again to the fore.
Exeter only had to wait 13 minutes after Nowell’s disallowed try to seal that bonus point then, with Simmonds’ hat-trick score making the game safe.
England prospect Joe Cokanasiga bagged a consolation score for Irish, but Exeter quickly resumed the one-way traffic through second row Lees.
When replacement hooker Jack Yeandle bundled in for the sixth score, the rout was over, with Steenson slotting another touchline conversion for good measure.