Quins leave it late to squeeze past Exeter

Exeter Chiefs 9 Harlequins 11: Steenson misses with last-gasp drop-goal attempt as Chiefs fall just short

Sandy Park

Harlequins' Rory Clegg, who turns 22 next Friday, has been obliged to play understudy to the former All Black fly-half Nick Evans for so long that he risked going from one of England's coming men to a will-he-ever-make-it. In Evans's absence with a hand injury yesterday, Clegg had an up and down match but sealed Quins' 11th straight away win in all competitions with a touchline kick in the final five minutes.

As is the way of these things, it mostly rubbed out the memory of Clegg's five missed kicks out of six that had gone before, in a tricky wind, and considering it came four days after Quins had lost their unbeaten domestic record for the season in a high-profile defeat by Saracens at Twickenham, it was more than welcome to the league leaders. "Rory Clegg showed incredible bottle," said Conor O'Shea, Quins' director of rugby. "His general play was magnificent but though he is normally an 80 per cent kicker he wasn't today and it took guts to land that kick."

Harlequins have been far from perennial title challengers but they need only another win or two in the 10 remaining Premiership matches to make the play-offs and already are odds-on to earn a home semi-final.

Exeter's ambitions in only their second Premiership season? They still stretch to a magnificently commendable place in next season's Heineken Cup by finishing in the top six. And, if this match exposed some limitations to their game and squad, it also reaffirmed the great vibe that exists in the Premiership's furthest staging post to the South-west: all waving flags and cheery chanting to their infectious theme tune, the Tomahawk Chop Song.

It was a clash of styles all right. Quins led early when they earned a penalty for hands in the ruck, Danny Care spied a gap and, true to his livelyform of recent weeks, the England No 9 raced to the goalline for a 5-0 lead inside three minutes. It had come from an Exeter fumble behind a strong scrum and, as expected, the set-piece was an area of profit.

Gray and Joe Marler are among umpteen Harlequins touted for England call-ups this month but Marler's scrummaging is one of his weaker suits; not a happy state for a loosehead prop. So Quins' fast-moving, handling game came with the knowledge that any spill gave Marler and friends a scrummaging test.

They had also travelled below full strength for a late kick-off dictated by television and hardly conducive to Londoners preferring their New Year revelry in Trafalgar Square to a pint of heavy at the disco in Sandy Park's Wigwam Bar. Evans will also miss next week's match with Nortahmpton, while two of the Premiership's most effective back-rowers – Nick Easter and Mo Fa'asavalu – were rested four days on from the 19-11 defeat by second-placed Saracens. On the upside they had Tom Guest returning after a broken arm.

Sure enough Quins conceded three penalties in the scrum in the first half. From the first of them on 12 minutes, Ignacio Mieres chose to go to touch, James Phillips secured the line-out and Quins pulled the maul down, giving Exeter's Argentinian fly-half three points from the 22.

After 20 minutes, Mieres was less effective, missing touch by going for too much distance and Quins cleared. But Clegg missed his third goal-kick of the half in the 29th minute and when Mieres thumped one over from just inside the halfway line soon afterwards, Exeter led 6-5. In between times, a good position for Harlequins was lost when Care appeared impeded as he tried to collect Mike Brown's pass out of a scrambling tackle near the posts. Clegg whacked a penalty over just before the break.

Though Clegg's hands were slick, his boot was not, and that plus the scrummaging made for a shaky platform for the Quins centres Jordan Turner-Hall and Matt Hopper, the latter keen to impress against the club for whom his father once played.

But Harlequins defended with some of the rushing, suffocating style Saracens had inflicted on them and, at the post-tackle, Exeter racked up too many transgressions. Only Clegg's clumping penalty misses after 51 and 54 minutes prevented Quins moving further ahead.

Exeter had the same quick turnaround from their day-after-Boxing Day defeat at London Irish, so Thomas and Mieres made way for Kevin Barrett and Gareth Steenson – the latter whose kicking last season did much to help Exeter settle. The Ulsterman had a shot from halfway with nine minutes to play that dropped short, his big chance soon came. Brown was caught well offside and Steenson set his tee on the 10-metre line. The kick was a wobbler and it needed the television match official's thumbs-up when the assistant referees Andrew Pearce and Paul Dix were unsure it had cleared the bar.

Clegg though, had an ace up his sleeve, arrowing a penalty over from the right-hand touchline after 76 minutes. It left Exeter with one more attack and one more scrum when Monye, on the retreat, knocked forward near his line. But at length a decent position for Steenson had him covering his face in anguish as his drop at goal skewed wide left.

"I can't say we deserved to win," said Rob Baxter, the Exeter coach. "But we showed our usual grit andI'm pleased we at least had a chance to win."

Exeter L Arscott; G Camacho, N Sestaret (J Tatupu, 71), J Shoemark, M Jess; I Mieres (G Steenson, 65), H Thomas (K Barrett, 65); B Sturgess, N Clark (S Alcott, 56), J Andress (C Mitchell, 44), T Hayes (capt), A Muldowney, R Baxter, J Phillips (T Johnson, 52), J Scaysbrook.

Harlequins M Brown; T Williams, M Hopper, J Turner-Hall, U Monye; R Clegg, D Care; J Marler (M Lambert, 71), J Gray, T Fairbrother (J Johnston, 50), T Vallejos (P Browne, 71), G Robson, C Robshaw (capt), T Guest (C York, 71), L Wallace.

Referee JP Doyle (London).

Exeter

Pens: Mieres 2, Steenson

Harlequins

Tries: Care

Pens: Clegg 2

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own