Exeter Chiefs win Anglo-Welsh Cup with Joe Simmonds at the controls

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GLOUCESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 30: Kai Horstmann of Exeter Chiefs lifts the Anglo-Welsh trophy and celebrates with team mates after winning the Final between Bath Rugby and Exeter Chiefs at Kingsholm Stadium on March 30, 2018 in Gloucester, England. (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)

The Anglo-Welsh Cup final had to be¬†rescheduled after being snowed off two weeks ago. While the weather still had an affect on yesterdays match; heavy rain ruining the chance of exciting attacking rugby in the second half, the outcome underlined the clubs superior place in UK Rugby. Exeter Chiefs win Anglo-Welsh Cup, to add to last season’s Premiership title.

In a tough match for both sides, it was another trophy for the Exeter side. Their opponents went in confident, however the damage was done for Bath in the first half as Exeter scored three tries.

James Barker was at Kingsholm for Last Word on Rugby to see the Exeter Chiefs defeat Bath 28-11.

Cooper Vuna scores in the corner for Bath. Image credit: James Barker

Joe Simmonds leading the Exeter charge

Exeter started with the intent that signalled they had no intention of losing a third-consecutive final. The opening try stemmed from two show-and-go dummies from fly-half Joe Simmonds. The first created the opening line break, and the second almost gave the youngster a try himself. From the resulting penalty and kick to the corner, Exeter executed a pre-planned lineout move and hooker Jack Innard went over. Simmonds converted for a 7-0 lead.

The 21 year-old is on course to give Rob Baxter a potentially huge headache; come the Premiership play-offs. He has muscled into the number ten shirt ahead of Gareth Steenson in recent months, but the question left for supporters after the Anglo Welsh Cup performance is ‘who would start in a possible final at Twickenham were it played tomorrow?’

Bath seemed to struggle under the early Exeter pressure. Their only attack in the opening 15 mins ended in a turnover penalty, and they were forced to concede two quickfire penalty goals, easily kicked by Simmonds. The second came after a horrendous tip-tackle from Tom Ellis, that embodied the frustration in the Bath side.

Freddie Burns, who was looking to win a third Anglo-Welsh Cup with three different teams, got Bath on the scoreboard with a penalty to make it 13-3. A period of ill-temper and controversy, when Tom Homer was hit late after a clearing kick, seemed to galvanise Bath. Their travelling band of drummers, who had set up camp in the corner of The Shed, did their best to rouse the subdued blue black and white army.

It seemed to work for their players, as a bullocking run into the 22 from prop Shaun Knight led to Cooper Vuna going across in the corner. Finally awarded after a long (and rather unnecessary) TMO deliberation.

Evolution of the Exeter Chiefs full squad

This try was almost immediately cancelled out though, as a trademark Exeter driving maul off a lineout put Innard over for his second. Another soon followed in the same corner, this time going to lock Toby Salmon.

That three-try blast had an affect on the Bath side, and demonstrated the strength of the visitors full squad.¬†These young forwards may well follow in the footsteps of Thomas Waldrom; mirroring ‘the Tanks’ signature try-scoring Exeter move. Indeed these days it does not seem to matter who is wearing the Chiefs shirt – either white or Pink – as the gameplan seems to get implemented well anyway.

This match, and the trophy win, was testament to Exeter’s evolutionary approach. A fine example of their determination to give youngsters their chance within in this tournament. If that evolution can reap rewards in this seasons, or next seasons Premiership, then the investment was well conceived by the Exeter Chiefs full squad.

Scores hard to come by in second half

With the score 8-25, the weather became a significant factor in the second half as the rain came lashing down. The Kingsholm ground [hosting the Bath v Exeter final] is due to get a hybrid synthetic pitch but for now, it can still be reduced to a bog in certain areas. This should have suited Bath more, given the regular quagmire conditions at The Rec, but it also suited Exeter – because it was now ‘harder to score’.

Inevitably the worsening conditions led to more tactical kicking, as territory became the priority. It took nearly 15 minutes for a score to appear, and this was only in the form of a Burns penalty. There was however an upturn in the Bath defence, as they held up the Chiefs twice over the tryline.

The second half remained tryless and there was only another Simmonds penalty that added to the score. After landing the winning kick against Bath last week, Simmonds had ‘luck on his side’ as the ball went over via the crossbar.

Young performer of the day: Jack Innard

Aside from Joe Simmonds, whose meteoric rise already makes him more than a fledging youngster, it was the Exeter¬†hooker¬†Jack Innard who put his hand up to be an ‘Anglo-Welsh new hero’.

Two tries for the Exeter hooker was only the headline, not the full story. Innard was solid with his lineout throwing, helped win scrum penalties which gave confidence to the Chiefs to take scrums at penalties. With his replacement on the day Shaun Malton off to Bristol next season, Innard has the chance to compete for the Premiership side number two shirt on a regular basis.

Post game, both coaches spoke the the media. There was certainly a difference in tone from a more downbeat Todd Blackadder, compared to a very chipper Ricky Pellow.

Asked if the match was lost in the first 20 minutes, Blackadder agreed and said that “his side had played well but were unable to execute”. He believed that his side won some key physical battles, particularly in the second half but often “looked like they had run out of options”.

The Bath Director of Rugby also lamented the fact that they hadn’t put in a performance to be proud of, not only today but in recent times.

Exeter Chiefs Coach proud of Younger Players

In comparison, a very happy Ricky Pellow said he was proud of both the younger players and senior players, who were now in contention for Premiership selection which was a testament to the Chiefs’ strength in depth. Pellow noted that “the Anglo-Welsh Cup was a massive part of the squad development plan”; four consecutive final appearances is the tangible proof of this commitment.

Pellow said that the squad would go and really enjoy the final victory, but will be sure to reset and refocus back on the Premiership next week. He said “we can’t just be happy that we’ve done this.¬†[There will be] a hell of a push back into the Premiership to retain top spot”.

Exeter skipper Kai Horstmann also spoke to the media and he praised the younger members of the squad.¬†“We showed real maturity as a squad, especially at 9 and 10 I thought they were absolutely outstanding. Everyone was absolutely on point, the communication was right up there and our 9 and 10 absolutely bossed it; they were class.

“Because of what we are as a club and as a group of players, it’s a real joy to come in to work with them.”

“It’s a hugely intense environment, but it has to be in order for us to be successful, so when they get opportunities to win silverware it’s special”.

Exeter Chiefs win Anglo-Welsh Cup

In front of a crowd of 8074,¬†deservedly as the Exeter Chiefs win Anglo-Welsh Cup, and they won it well. Whilst they might have preferred to be competing in the European Championship quarter finals on Easter weekend, a comfortable final victory made it ‘a very Good Friday’ for the Devonians.

Indeed Exeter coach Ricky Pellow enjoyed a bag of mini eggs in the media room post-match. Here’s hoping he saved some for ‘Man of the Match’ Moray Low who scrummaged brilliantly in challenging conditions.

 

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