Exeter continued to push hard for a place in the Aviva Premiership play-offs as they secured their first victory in any competition against London Irish. The Devon side outscored the Exiles by two tries to one – all the visitors' points came from the full-back Tom Homer as they slipped to their sixth league defeat in a row.
Exeter's coach, Rob Baxter, said: "Every Premiership win is very important and hard fought so you take the points when you can. I thought we showed tremendous endeavour in this game but we also missed gilt-edged opportunities to score points.
"But those opportunities were there because we played well, we moved the ball around the pitch well, got into space well and kept possession very well. Most of our game held up to extremely high standards. London Irish have enough quality and enough game-breakers to really hurt you, but we kept them out of the game by playing ourselves. We have just got to keep getting better and taking the opportunities."
Exeter named an unchanged side from the one that beat Gloucester 28-27 last time out and they were led on to the pitch by the No 8 Richard Baxter – Rob's brother – who was making his 400th league and cup appearance for the club. Irish made two changes from the side that lost 41-32 at Leicester Tigers last Sunday, with Adrian Jarvis starting at fly-half and Paulica Ion at tighthead prop.
The Chiefs applied the early pressure and their Argentinian fly-half Ignacio Mieres put the first points on the board with a 40-metre penalty. Irish levelled the scores with a Homer penalty and after Mieres had missed one kick at goal, the fly-half succeeded with his next attempt to make it 6-3.
Baxter then made an excellent break down the left touchline before he was halted by the Exiles flanker Matt Garvey, but the ball was worked across field and the outside centre Bryan Rennie just failed to squeeze in at the left corner. The referee, Dave Pearson, had already blown his whistle for a penalty on the opposite side of the pitch, but Mieres saw his attempt hit the far upright.
The Chiefs maintained the pressure, Rennie putting a neat grubber kick through and forcing Homer to take the awkwardly bouncing ball into touch five metres from his own line and with half-time approaching. Exeter's replacement hooker, Neil Clark, found Baxter to set up the the drive to the tryline and the second-row forward James Hanks went over for his first try of the season, from close range. Mieres kicked the conversion to give the Chiefs a 13-3 lead at the break.
In the second half, Mieres, now kicking into the wind, missed an early opportunity to stretch the Chiefs lead with a 25-metre attempt. It was then the visitors who got the first points of the half. A neat chip through from Jarvis and another awkward bounce caught two Chiefs defenders napping, allowing Homer to touch down in the corner – he was unable to add the touchline conversion but he did then reduce the arrears to two points with his second penalty.
Homer was just wide with his next attempt, midway through the half. That was just the jolt that Exeter needed and the right wing Gonzalo Camacho crossed for his first try for the club, having been tackled just short of the line. Mieres missed the conversion and a 45-metre penalty before he was replaced by Gareth Steenson for the final 10 minutes.
With less than four minutes left the Exiles won a penalty 15 metres from the Chiefs line and in front of the posts – they kicked to touch to set up a drive and a tense finish, but the Chiefs' defence stood firm.
Irish's head coach, Toby Booth, said: "Again we are on the wrong side of the scoreline. We've got to seriously look at it because it is not from the lack of effort, but I'm sure it will turn for us."
Exeter Chiefs P Dollman; G Camacho, B Rennie (S Naqelevuki, 57), J Shoemark, M Jess; I Mieres (G Steenson, 71), H Thomas (K Barrett, 51); H Tui (B Moon, 52), C Whitehead (N Clark, 19), C Mitchell (C Budgen, 79), T Hayes (capt), J Hanks (A Muldowney, 57), T Johnson, R Baxter, J Scaysbrook.
London Irish T Homer; M Yarde, J Ansbro, S Shingler (D Armitage, 58), S Tagicakibau; A Jarvis, D Allinson (P Hodgson, 68); A Corbisiero (M Lahiff, 63), D Paice (J Buckland, 69), P Ion (L Halavatau, 58), N Kennedy, B Evans, D Danaher (B Casey, 63), J Gibson (A Gray, 59), M Garvey (O Treviranus, 40).
Referee D Pearson (Northumberland).
Tries: Hanks, Camacho
Pens: Mieres 2
Pens: Homer 2
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