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Exeter go top

Exeter moved top of the Aviva Premiership after goalkickers Gareth Steenson and Henry Slade combined to punish Gloucester's poor discipline at Kingsholm.

Fly-half Steenson landed four penalties and a conversion of flanker Ben White's first-half try, while Slade capped an impressive individual performance by booting two long-range strikes as Exeter triumphed 25-22 to make it two wins out of three this term and climb one point above unbeaten trio Saracens, Bath and Leicester.

Gloucester dominated early on through tries from wing Jonny May and prop Dan Murphy, but they handed Steenson and Slade regular opportunities to punish them, which they gratefully accepted.

The cherry and whites have so far leaked an average of 35 points and four tries per game during new rugby director David Humphreys' reign, and although it is early days for a new-look squad, a losing bonus point secured by flanker Sione Kalamafoni's touchdown will provide scant consolation.

Half-backs Greig Laidlaw and James Hook each added a conversion, while Hook slotted a late penalty, yet Exeter kept their composure as the clock ticked down, following up a landslide opening weekend win at London Welsh with another away victory.

Gloucester huffed and puffed during the stamina-sapping closing stages in an attempt to salvage the contest, but Exeter confirmed their reputation as a solid Premiership outfit through a thoroughly-professional performance.

Gloucester showed four changes from the side that accounted for Sale Sharks six days ago, with centre Henry Purdy making his Premiership debut instead of an injured Henry Trinder, while prop Sila Puafisi replaced John Afoa, lock Tom Palmer took over from James Hudson and Ross Moriarty packed down in the back-row.

Exeter boss Rob Baxter, meanwhile, handed starts to prop Ben Moon and lock Damian Welch as the solitary starting XV changes following a narrow home defeat against Leicester last time out.

The Chiefs won last season's corresponding fixture 29-12, with Steenson kicking 19 points, and it took him just three minutes to open his account this time around, landing an angled penalty after Gloucester infringed inside their own half.

But Gloucester hit back quickly after Exeter wing Iain Whitten was sin-binned for a mid-air challenge on opposite number Charlie Sharples, with May proving the home side's attacking magician.

Put into space just inside his own half, he won a thrilling race to ground his own kick, getting to the touchdown inches before May's opposite number Matt Jess, who made a valiant attempt to thwart the danger.

And Exeter were in trouble again shortly afterwards, failing to regroup quickly enough after scrum-half Haydn Thomas went off injured as Gloucester's forwards drove relentlessly from a lineout before Murphy claimed a try that Laidlaw converted.

A second Steenson penalty narrowed the gap to 12-6 after 15 minutes before Whitten returned, before two further Steenson strikes in six minutes tied things up as he made it 14 successful kicks from 14 attempts this term.

That 100 per cent record then ended, though, when he drifted a long-range penalty attempt just short as Gloucester continued to encounter scrummaging problems, with Murphy under particular pressure.

Gloucester's early zip and promise had evaporated, and Exeter did not require a second invitation to establish a commanding advantage by half-time.

Superb approach work by back-row forwards Thomas Waldrom and Dave Ewers set up a close-range score for White that Steenson converted as Exeter went in front for the first time, then a Slade penalty made it 22-12 at the break as Gloucester trooped off with plenty to contemplate.

And it almost got even worse for the home side after Slade scythed through Gloucester's midfield defence before replacement scrum-half Will Chudley kicked on and touched down, but referee Matt Carley ruled a forward pass by Slade after consulting with television match official Geoff Warren.

Gloucester then had substitute Matt Kvesic harshly yellow-carded for what Carley ruled was a dangerous tackle on the charging Waldrom, and Slade hit the target from just inside Gloucester's half to open up a 13-point Exeter lead.

Exeter preserved that lead until into the final quarter, but Kalamafoni's 63rd-minute touchdown, converted by Hook, set up a gripping finale as Gloucester moved to within striking distance.

Hook's 72nd-minute penalty gave Exeter further cause for concern as pressure began to mount, but they had done just enough to frustrate their opponents and reach the early-season Premiership summit.


From Belfast Telegraph