Chiefs turn history round in first Heineken Cup win

Scarlets 16 Exeter Chiefs 22

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The Independent Online

Few could have imagined this result just five years ago but no one could deny Exeter Chiefs their first Heineken Cup victory against fallen giants Scarlets.

It was not so long ago that Exeter were plying their trade in the second tier of English rugby while Scarlets were regularly competing for the biggest prize in European rugby.

Yet their contrasting fortunes were played out here at a half-full Parc Y Scarlets where Exeter claimed their historic victory.

It was the misfortune of these sides to find themselves in the same pool as the champions, Leinster, and one of the favourites, Clermont-Auvergne.

Defeats for both in the opening rounds rendered this first competitive tie between these sides, as one rugby pundit described, "like two bald men fighting over a comb".

But try telling Exeter that this victory doesn't mean anything.

Their hopes of progressing past the pool stage may remain slim, but this victory was years in the making as they climbed each crag to join the top echelons of European rugby.

Head coach Rob Baxter said: "It's a great moment for us to claim our first Heineken Cup win, especially on the road and at a club with a great European tradition.

"It was the next thing on our wish-list. We had produced some good performances in the first two games but the next stage was getting that win.

"We started well with a well-worked try but we lost the arm-wrestle in the second half, came under real pressure and had to show character to come through it."

For the Scarlets, it was the end of their campaign for another year, though more damaging to their pride was a second pool defeat at home for only the second time in their 17-year mainstay in the Heineken Cup.

More painful still, also to Wales, is the loss of Rhys Priestland who may well be facing a battle to make the Six Nations after damaging his left Achilles. The Wales fly-half was carried off on a stretcher early in the second half after slipping as he ran into contact.

Priestland was on crutches after the game but Scarlets head coach Simon Easterby feared the worst.

Easterby said: "We won't know the full extent until he has had a scan but it did not look good. It was one of those injuries that sometimes happens and you can't do anything about.."

After a catastrophic autumn for injuries, this was the last thing either Scarlets or Wales needed.

By the time Priestland was injured, Exeter, on the back of five straight wins in all competitions, were already 16-6 ahead. Wasteful Scarlets gift-wrapped possession and territory to the Chiefs with little fuss and they led from as early as the fourth minute when Luke Arscott shrugged off two tackles to hand Haydn Thomas Exeter's first try of the tournament.

Prop Hoani Tui went close, held up over the line, though Steenson was immaculate with the boot, kicking 17 points. Ben Moon's yellow card set up a tense finale as Scarlets earned a penalty try from a series of collapsed scrums, but they failed to find a way past Exeter's defence to salvage the win, or their campaign.

Easterby said: "We played much better in the second half but you can't give teams such an easy lead as that. We slipped off tackles and conceded a soft try and we were struggling to get back on level terms. Exeter did well to keep us at arm's length."

Scarlets D Newton; L Williams, J Davies (capt), S Williams, A Fenby; R Priestland (A Thomas, 47), A Davies (T Knoyle, 60); P John (S Hopkins, 77), M Rees (K Owens, 51), S Lee (J Adriaanse, 12), G Earle (S Timani, 51), R Kelly, A Shingler (J Snyman, 64), K Murphy, J Edwards.

Exeter L Arscott; G Camacho, S Naqelevuki (I Whitten, 54), J Shoemark (I Mieres, 72), M Jess (B Sturgess, 64-74); G Steenson, H Thomas (K Barrett, 12); B Sturgess (B Moon, 56), S Alcott (N Clark, 54), H Tui (C Rimmer, 56), T Hayes (capt), D Welch (D Mumm, 54), T Johnson (A Muldowney, 72), R Baxter, J Scaysbrook.

Referee M Raynal (France).


Try: Penalty try Con: A Thomas

Pens: Priestland (2), A Thomas

Exeter Chiefs

Try: H Thomas Con: Steenson

Pens: Steenson (5)