Exeter humble Harlequins to finish regular season with a flourish
Six tries were amassed against a Quins side that collapsed in the final 10 minutes.
Exeter completed the regular Aviva Premiership season with an emphatic 41-17 victory at Twickenham Stoop that consigned Harlequins to a chastening 10th-placed finish.
The Chiefs’ position at the summit of the league was already unassailable and they will face Newcastle at Sandy Park in the semi-final in a fortnight with momentum behind them.
Six tries were amassed against a side that collapsed in the final 10 minutes, the pick of them a dazzling touchdown finished by the outstanding Joe Simmonds, while flanker Dave Dennis crossed twice.
The defeat brought a dismal end to the reign of John Kingston, who was presiding over his final match as Quins director of rugby only to endure a third successive loss since news of his departure at the end of the season was announced last month.
His players looked like the campaign was already over as they waved Exeter through in the closing stages, but at 24-17 the game hung in the balance until a late flurry of points from the champions.
Quins started with plenty of intent set as they launched waves of attacks and although Mike Brown was prominent, it was the dancing footwork of Smith that swept them over the whitewash in the fourth minute.
But having lit up Twickenham Stoop with their endeavour, they then allowed their own line to be breached all too easily when Dave Ewers drove over from close range.
It was a sweeping move that led to Exeter’s second try, a brilliantly judged pass from Simmonds creating space down the left before Ewers showed strength to feed Dennis the scoring pass.
The Chiefs’ forward power helped Dennis score a second but the champions showed their class to secure the bonus point with a try-of-the-season contender launched from inside their own half by Sam Hill’s log pass to Santiago Cordero.
With the support runners timing their arrival to perfection, Exeter swept over the 22 through Olly Woodburn before Simmonds arrived to finish the move.
Quins were in danger of being overrun but, for all their shortcomings, they remained dangerous in broken field and with seconds of the first half remaining they were able to conjure a try for Brown.
At 24-17 the match was finely poised as the rivals traded blows in a third quarter that started in entertaining fashion only to became increasingly scrappy.
It was Exeter who attacked with the greater speed and purpose but their endeavour was undermined by the growing error count.
When once advance came to a halt – Quins were now tackling with greater conviction – replacement fly-half Gareth Steenson used the penalty to propel Exeter 10 points clear.
The gap widened further when Tom Hendrickson crashed over from a line-out and with the home side falling apart at the seams, Alec Hepburn helped himself to a late try.