Best of the Weekend: Gloucester shock Exeter at home

Johnny Sexton

Exeter suffered a second consecutive defeat, as they were out-muscled and out-smarted by Gloucester. The cherry and whites handled the conditions much better than the home side, Number 8 Ben Morgan was outstanding and winger Ollie Thorley extended his run of sensational performances with an unbelievable break from his own 22 that set up Willie Heinz for Worcester’s opening score.

The coaching staff, fans and players will once again be scratching their heads at another season where they have failed to perform in Europe. I think that is down to European referees actually officiating the ruck properly and not letting the Chiefs get away with some questionable ruck-clearing. I also believe that Exeter don’t have enough sprinklings of stardust in their squad to challenge the likes of Leinster, Munster, Saracens and Toulouse etc and while their maul is a potent weapon they cannot rely on it 100% of the time and they still don’t have a functioning Plan B.

Edinburgh stretch away to beat inexperienced Newcastle side
It was a match that the home side were expected to win, but that was not a certainty until late in the second half. It was a mixed Falcons side, with Director of Rugby Dean Richards deliberately resting some 1st choice players, and he was forced into not naming a replacement tighthead – EPCR rejected Newcastle’s request to register an extra player, which drew criticism from Richards over the disregard for player welfare. Falcons however did well to have a 10-13 lead at halftime but Edinburgh went on the rampage including a wonderful counterattacking try finished by Blair Kinghorn created by a wonderful Viliame Mata offload. The home side finished 31-13 meaning that they have a previously unfathomable lead in Pool 5.

Scarlets beaten at home by impressive Ulster
The Welsh Region have been struggling of late in the Pro14 but at home against a side they’ve beaten six times in a row, fans were still confident of a win, a win they desperately needed to still have hopes of qualification. However Ulster started brightly with an excellent Jacob Stockdale try. Steff Evans responded but Australian international Henry Speight slid over to restore their lead and Irish centre Will Addison cut a great line to score. Scarlets did close the gap as Evans grabbed his second from a lovely offload but the robust Marcell Coetzee bundled over in the corner to secure the visitors’ bonus point. Victory was not assured as the home side did grab a losing bonus point through European Champions Cup debutant Dan Davis who finished fantastically in the corner and Scarlets pressed for victory but Ulster won a turnover and the match. This means that last year’s semifinalists are effectively out of the competition in the group stages.

Glasgow boost qualification hopes with bonus point win in Lyon
Last year’s Pro14 table-toppers gave themselves a good chance of reaching the knockout stages with a pretty good win over the French underdogs. A try from the robust blindside flanker Adam Ashe and George Horne had put the Glaswegians 20-10 up at halftime and although Noa Nakaitaci and Charl McLeod responded for the hosts, tries from Scotland stars Huw Jones and Stuart Hogg and a second from Ashe culminated in an effective but somewhat incoherent display in terms of the Warriors’ very high standards.

Larmour intercept crucial as Leinster grind to a win against Bath
In front of a packed-out Recreation Ground embracing the torrid conditions as always, the home side were really pumped up for the occasion. Openside flanker Sam Underhill was fantastic, combining with Springbok François Louw in a Pocock-Hooper formation faultlessly, and to brutal effect. They won turnover after turnover and prevented the defending champions from gaining any momentum. It was Leinster who struck first through a try off the maul from Sean Cronin, but Bath capitulated on a set-piece error and the superb tighthead prop Henry Thomas bundled over. However the home side gifted wonder-kid Jordan Larmour an early Christmas present as he intercepted from 50 odd metres out to regain the lead. From then on the Leinster wall held firm and both teams added a single penalty to leave the champions with a thoroughly hard-worked win and Bath with a losing bonus point.

Toulon win all French derby against Montpellier in a high-scoring affair
Last year’s quarterfinalists and French heavyweights Toulon restored hope of qualification with a bonus point win at home over French neighbouring mammoths Montpellier. The returning Georgian hero Mamuka Gorgodze put the hosts on the front foot and they ran riot (much like their fellow gilet jeunes) with tries from flanker Lakafia and winger Nakosi, Montpellier did score two late tries to secure a try-scoring bonus point to keep the embers of their European hopes still fighting for life.

Toulouse get crucial away win at the Ricoh Arena
The French giants have seemingly reawakened this season, and are now unbeaten after 3 rounds, a feat made more achievable by the fact that French teams don’t travel very well. They possess a winning mentality, and despite only winning each of their 3 matches by no more than 4 points, they look so dangerous in attack. Against Wasps, it was perhaps their game management that won them the match, then Cheslin Kolbe scored a brilliant individual try that extended the visitors’ lead.

Munster eventually beat Castres in hugely physical encounter
The Irish Province were evidently strong favourites at their fortress of Thomond Park against a French side but credit to Castres they made Munster work incredibly hard with an intense defensive effort that really frustrated the home defence and the crowd, preventing Munster from scoring until the 50th minute through Rory Scannell. That try finally inspired the men in red, scoring further tries through CJ Stander and flyhalf JJ Hanrahan to win the game 30-5 to maintain their dominance over Pool 2, returning scrumhalf Conor Murray was essential to victory, creating two tries and was the catalyst for his team’s victory, who were disrupted by late injuries in the warm up to centre Chris Farrell and flyhalf Joey Carbery.

Ben Earl double kick-starts Saracens into a thumping over Cardiff
The Cardiff Blues really surprised one of the tournament favourites, especially in the 2nd half. The home side started the game the brightest through Richard Wigglesworth but Cardiff responded in some style through US captain Blaine Scully and then a simply brilliant individual try from fullback Matthew Morgan gave the visitors an unlikely lead. Saracens piled on the pressure but Cardiff were ferocious in defence, spearheaded by flanker Olly Robinson and Sarries were left even more frustrated as they had two tries correctly chalked off by the officials so the Blues led at halftime. Saracens, almost expectedly, kicked back into gear with the introduction of flanker Ben Earl, who scored two tries before the touchline denied him a hat-trick. Then, suddenly the home side were all over Cardiff: Sean Maitland getting a deserved double, replacements Ben Spencer and prop Christian Judge both scored with Farrell immaculate as ever from the tee. Cardiff did respond through Robinson, hoping to get a try-scoring bonus point but that didn’t happen and Saracens, after suffering a scare, eventually won 51-25.

Racing 92 just too good for Leicester
Leicester Tigers definitely improved on their performance last weekend against Racing, however they made hard work of themselves. They were reduced to 14 men twice with Manu Tuilagi yellow carded in the 8th minute for a deliberate knock-on and Ellis Genge binned for a supposed professional offence in the 50th minute. In those two ten minute spells Racing unleashed their superstar backline and scored the majority of their tries. Tigers did not give up and scored some brilliant tries of their own through Jonah Holmes, then Sione Kalamafoni bundled over, a sensational team try from Tuilagi and a riveting counterattack from George Ford forced a Tigers lineout which he took quickly and Adam Thompstone touched down to give Tigers a vital point.

Meanwhile in the Challenge Cup
On Friday, French side Pau compounded Warriors’ errors to earn a home victory, the away side missing superstar scrumhalf François Hourgaard. Grenoble won the all-French affair against relegation-strugglers Agen. Saturday was a day of big thrashings, Sale thrashed 14-man Bordeaux away with Chris Ashton scoring a double, Clermont unsurprisingly smashing Timisoara Saracens 14-47 in Romania, Northampton simply walked over the Dragons 48-14 at Franklin Gardens and Ospreys demolished Stade Français 51-20. Elsewhere, Zebre earned an away victory against the Russian Enisei-STM, Connacht ground out a victory against Perpignan, La Rochelle earned a great away victory against Bristol, the Bears not capitalising enough on the opportunities presented before them and finally a late try from Benetton Treviso denied Harlequins a draw in Italy.

Key Talking Points:
– Was Dean Richards right to criticise the EPCR? Do you agree with him?
– Should Joe Cokanasiga have been carded for his tackle on James Gibson-Park?
– Why do you think Exeter have failed to crack Europe?
– Why are the Scarlets underperforming this season?

By Jacob Bassford (add me on Twitter @jacob_bassford and subscribe to my Youtube channel @FlyingG_Sports)

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

43 thoughts on “Best of the Weekend: Gloucester shock Exeter at home

  1. Not convinced that it was the officiating with Exeter. Glaws were on a mission and beat them up front. As one of my Exeter supporters mates said on Saturday night – they out Exetered Exeter. I think that if you look back at the game, Exeter were infringing at the breakdown quite a bit and getting away with it. This led to slow ball for Willi Heinz. I think that they just got beaten by the better team on the day. Am expecting a backlash on Friday even though we are at home – although I do wonder what team Exeter will put out as I think that they have Sarries at home the week after and they won’t want to lose that.

      1. Ex just don’t have the incisiveness that other teams have. Cordero made a couple of wonderful half breaks. Such a shame he may be moving on. Slade wasn’t able to slide through gaps or put others through the way he usually does. Another slippery customer in Woodburn is still injured and by the look of things doing a very good job of impersonating Boy George. I’m hoping that Hogg can add some cut and thrust to the back line as Ex look bereft of ideas against the top teams.

        1. With Hogg in, the backline next season when all fit could be 11-15 Woodburn/Cuthbert-Hill/Devoto-Slade-Nowell/Cordero-Hogg. 3 with Lions caps and 5 with numerous international caps. Point being, they wont lack for ‘stardust’ at that point! and arguably don’t now either – it just isn’t firing. Exeter may make it hard for themselves sometimes, eschewing imported talent when they think they can develop from within, but I still prefer it done that way rather than the galactico method…
          Still, it is puzzling why they wobble in Europe – knowing the reffing is different, feeling 5% extra pressure, meeting teams at full intensity etc – hard to know. I mean, yes they’ve had a poor run this year in particular (should have won v Munster at the death, had a horror-show in Castres, and looked out of ideas v Glaws) but last year they were the closest to beating Leinster of anyone, and in Dublin no less, at this point last year (Round 4 – Leinster finally took the lead in the 66th min).
          Good news is that with Baxter, they will continue to work on it and learn. Disappointing, but I fully expect them to work through this – they haven’t got to where they are now by getting flustered over a few results not going their way. Providing they stop the rot somewhere reasonably soon, I’m not worried.
          Mark P – haven’t seen anything to suggest Cordero was moving on – mind you, I didn’t know Campagnaro had left until I saw him in a Wasps shirt – what’ve you read?

          1. Good post VJ. Ex are really feeling it as well with S Simmonds & Nowell out of the picture. A good deal of Ex’s go forward last season could well be attributed to Sam, busting the line at will with a fantastic turn of pace and just being a nightmare to defend against.

            I may have had my wires crossed ref Cordero. He only signed a one year deal this year and I’m sure that I heard he was either going to France or joining Campagnaro at Wasps.

  2. Joe Cokanasiga – card or no card….who knows! Given some of the cards we have seen you can argue 100% yes card and a red, however I am glad sense prevailed. When he left his feet, prepared for shoulder impact you could see he was probably around the ‘nipple’ height, however the player he was tackling (can’t recall who) dropped to the floor. Admittedly you could argue the way JC went all Superman into the tackle was reckless as he had no chance of changing his angle of impact – but its all split second stuff. On summary, and on the basis that the new laws are trying to change tackle behaviour, a yellow card I feel would have been justified and not much argument from Bath.

    1. I think it falls under the category of ‘Accidental’ tackle rather than ‘Reckless’. The tackler has gone in and the tacklee has ducked/slipped. Accidental tackles are punishable by penalty only. It becomes too subjective if slowed to split-seconds, and players arent going to be able to alter course after the tackle has started.

      1. Makes total sense to me then! Can’t help but think though some refs would have gone straight for the card given some of the decisions we have seen of recent. Glad this ref assessed it correctly.

    1. Won’t even start on the players Glaws had missing for this last game. All teams are missing injured players by this stage of the season, so not sure that is an excuse.

      1. On that note Staggy what is your ideal Gloucester XV, this is mine:

        1 Ruskin
        2 Hanson
        3 Dreyer
        4 Slater
        5 Mostert
        6 Kriel
        7 Polledri
        8 Morgan
        9 Heinz
        10 Cipriani
        11 Thorley
        12 Twelvetrees
        13 Trinder
        14 Matt Banahan
        15 Jason Woodward

        1. Jacob – very interesting question. Are we talking potential best, players who are on form now, etc as the players picked would probably vary, as they would in different game scenarios. But if everyone was fit and playing to their best form, this is who I would pick (I think)
          Marais (only just)
          Dreyer (based on what I think that he can do)

          So on my basis the unavailable players for Exeter were VRR, Marais, Dreyer, Kriel and Marshall, with Ackermann senior rotating out Mostert and Sharples.

          My reserve list would be
          Hohneck, Hanson, Balmain
          Slater, Savage
          Ludlow, Clarke, Ackermann
          Braley, Williams
          Atkinson, Hudson
          Bannahan, Woodward, Purdy

            1. Personally think Woodward blows a bit hot and cold. I really like Marshalls play but he has struggled to stay fit unfortunately. I think just personal preference. Not much in it.

            1. I know. Tough calls. Slater is the sort of player that you want on every team. Hard as nails, intelligent, a leader and very good, but such is the strength of depth we’ve got at lock, I just think the other two are even better. Banahan is an interesting one. I was delighted when we signed him and he is good, but Thorley is probably first choice and Charlie is(?) Premiership top scorer. Who do you leave out?

              1. We are lucky to have such strength in depth this year, not forgetting that we had Mariano Galarza and Burns Junior at the start of the season as well, although not quite sure if one of those had to go to keep under the salary cap with Mostert coming in.

  3. For me, Scarlets have really missed Tadhg Beirne and John Barclay in the pack and some of their signings have failed to bear fruit yet for whatever reason (Cassiem and Bloemitjies

  4. Slightly off topic but does anyone know how long Hughes is out for, maybe his injury and Morgans impressive performance can have an impact on EJ thinking for 6N

    1. Morgan has been in two/three EPS squads in Eddie Jones tenure, but unfortunately he got injured for England and lost his chance in the Autumn. Hoping he will be picked again in the Six Nations.

      1. Somewhat inevitably I agree, Morgan has been seriously impressive this year. Still think him and Cips should be going to the RWC. Shame for him that England has so much strength in depth on the wing as Thorley is emerging as a bolter too. However, what are the odds on none of them going as EJ still thinks that Gloucester is in Wales….

      2. JB, someone here previously dismissed Morgan as an England contender, @ least in part, on the basis that he wasn’t the 1st choice @ Gloucester. Ackermann was/is? Personally, I thought that Jones ought to have given the test experienced Morgan a run, but it seems that he won’t figure in England’s plans, unless all the ‘recognised’ 8’s get injured. Similarly to 1/2 the rest of the pack. Why do you propose that Morgan ought to be an England 8?

        1. Don, to be fair for most of last season Morgan was playing second fiddle to Ackermann and indeed wasn’t playing his best, but this season, even when Ackermann was fit he has been clear first choice and is playing to a very high standard again. Whether EJ recognises that is a completely different matter though.

          1. Morgan was playing 2nd fiddle but only because he was injured, he returned in the Cup and in Europe and played very well towards the latter of end of the season, hence why I thought he shoud’ve gone to South Africa.

          2. Staggy. Ok. You’ll know Morgan & presumably seen more of him, than me. Therefore what you state about him & Jones, makes sense. Unfortunately, I fear Morgan’s boat may have sailed. Jones can be quite blinkered, contradictory & stubborn @ times. It seems that this is 1 of those occasions.

          1. JB, seems a reasonable assessment of Morgan & yet he’s not featured for England since when? V NZ in 2012? Anyway, since the invention of Billy V, England seem to see only him as their No 8. However, surely the experienced Morgan would have offered a viable, different option for England. He could/should have been given some serious game time. Instead, he’s been shunned & wasted. Seems nothing’s going to change under Jones either. Tough on Morgan, but also England’s loss. Negligence IMO.

            1. World Cup game versus Australia 2015. Got injured I believe so missed 1st Six Nations, like I said made a couple of EPS squads but then after Hughes qualified he was dropped and then got injured again. Since Ackermann whenever he has played he has played consistently well.

              1. JB. Thanks. Sometimes there seem to be the favoured & !he out of favour players. Like Morgan & Cipriani, as another example. Hughes seems to have been seem only ok for England, yet he’s still in the frame. Sometimes it appears as hard for some players to get out of England, than for others to get in. Jones’ lack of vision is partly responsible IMO. I mean, 1/2 his pack is only there because of injury & he persists with an out of posi Daly @ f/back! As much foresight as not having a 2nd Brexit vote. IMO, in both situations, some foresight would likely saved much hassle.

                1. Morgan got his first cap in 2012 and was involved in the national set up until a really nasty leg break in January 2015. It really took him almost three years to recover and get back to the form that made him one of England’s better players. It would be a shame if EJ didn’t take his blinkers off, as I think that for the type of game England want to play he is probably the second best 8 after Billy V. I do rate Wilson, but as a 6 rather than an 8.

  5. Exeter’s problem in Europe is Rob Baxter, he just doesnt take Europe seriously and this flows down to the players. Exeter will never be taken seriously until they do well in Europe. Hogg must be regretting signing with Exeter attitude re Europe.

    1. Think the problem is they take it too seriously and are fretting about their performances. Having talked up the need to do well in Europe, they have put pressure on themselves to deliver. That isnt always a bad thing but it can work against you.
      I think thats what happening at Exeter. They’ve got a bit of a monkey on their back.

    2. If Baxter didn’t take it seriously this would probably reflect in his starting line ups. The team he fielded against Glos was full strength. Too much pressure if anything is on them to try and win and therefore is reflected on the pitch with substandard performances.

      1. I dont think there is any pressure on them in Europe – they are not a shade on the big 4-5 teams (e.g. Racing, Leinster, Sarries, Munster, Toulouse).

        1. They pushed Leinster/Ireland very close last year, drew with Munster last month and beat Montpellier very comfortably last season, so not too far off. They lack one or two galaticos that would give them the edge or parity at least with the best.

          1. They currently lack the X-Factor that Simmonds and Cowan-Dickie bring to the pack imo, I feel like they need a more mobile front-rower too. Famously, Holmes was a very mobile prop in his day but he’s well past those days now and I just feel like they need another front-rower who is younger and more mobile.

            1. Ex seriously missing LCD & Simmonds as you say, and it’s showing big time. Doesn’t help having Nowell out either who is a different kind of winger entirely to Cordero & Cuthbert. Cuthbert is still looking like he’s trying to find his way into this club. Holmes on the face of it looked a very good signing a few seasons back but hasn’t brought his Wallabies form to the UK. There is an imbalance in the current back row with Armand, Ewers & Kvesic – it’s too big and cumbersome and lacks a player in the mould of Simmonds. There is no like for like replacement for him in the squad. Ex would kill for someone like Mercer at the moment. Kvesic makes the odd half break here and there and isn’t afraid of a gallop, but more dynamism and speed is required in attack.

  6. Staggy, n/r button for yr Morgan, injury etc comment, but if you were responding to me. Thanks. Yet another point we agree upon . Whatever next?!

      1. Staggy, well, I was beginning to fret about it a bit. However, following yr reassuring last comment, I’m now beginning to feel more relaxed about this vexing issue. What do you think the odds are of our agreeing on something else before Crimbo? Yikes!

        1. Highly unlikely, but then I had Exeter as seven point favourites last week so my betting record isn’t too good!


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