Thomas takes Chiefs through

Exeter Chiefs 31 Perpignan 14

Sandy Park

Two years ago, Exeter Chiefs were in England's second division and Perpignan were champions of France. Now the Chiefs can celebrate a first quarter-final in a European competition. They must wait until today's final pool games in the Amlin Challenge Cup before they know who they will play on the first weekend in April, and whether they have done enough for a home tie. Frankly, they will not care.

Perpignan, struggling in 10th in the Top 14, may be more concerned with domestic matters but they had scored two converted tries within eight minutes. They lost because of the hard-running basics which are fundamental to Exeter's rise. The Chiefs nibbled their way back, thanks to the goal-kicking of Ignacio Mieres and the prompting of Haydn Thomas, had taken the lead by the interval and embellished matters in the second half with two tries, one among the best the ground will see this season.

Tony Rowe, the chairman, said: "We have talked at length about the ambition and they played like a group of ambitious players. Rob Baxter, the coach, added: "They have achieved what no other players here have ever achieved."

Exeter conceded easy points, David Marty collecting a loose ball and tossing a pass to Charles Geli for the first try. The second came when Joffrey Michel kicked long and won the chase to score. But Exeter dominated the rest of the half, which brought a yellow card for Robins Tchale-Watchou, the Perpignan lock. In his absence, Thomas wriggled over for a try and helped Mieres to a third penalty; there may be a citing for what Exeter consider a knee-drop on Thomas which effectively ended his contribution.

The prop Brett Sturgess finished a 40-metre move. When Gareth Steenson hit a post with a penalty attempt, Exeter claimed the bouncing ball and James Phillips dived over for the third try. A frenetic finale included yellow cards for Simon Alcott and Jean-Pierre Perez, but few of Exeter's delighted supporters were concerned.

Exeter Chiefs: L Arscott (P Dollman, 71); G Camacho, N Sestaret, J Shoemark, M Jess; I Mieres (G Steenson, 65), H Thomas (K Barrett, 41); B Sturgess (H Tui, 71), N Clark (S Alcott, 67), J Andress (C Mitchell, 58), T Hayes (capt), A Muldowney (J Phillips, 67), T Johnson, R Baxter (Clark 79), J Scaysbrook (B White, 76).

Perpignan: J Michel (J Porical, 58); F Sid, D Marty (capt), G Hume, A Planté; J Hook, D Mélé (F Cazenave, 62); P Freshwater (J Schuster, 55), C Geli (G Guirado, 55), B Bourrust (K Pulu, 41), R Taofifenua, R Tchale Watchou (M Tincu, 71), G Britz, R Bezian (O Olibeau, 46), JP Perez.

Referee: J Lacey (Ireland)

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