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).


Pens: Mieres 2, Steenson


Tries: Care

Pens: Clegg 2

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower