Chiefs impressive at La Rochelle

Date published: December 4 2014

Exeter made it seven straight wins in all competitions with a 36-10 bonus-point win over La Rochelle at the Stade Marcel Deflandre.

Skipper Gareth Steenson kicked 16 points, while Tom James and Brett Sturgess chipped in with first-half tries as Rob Baxter’s side had the better of an entertaining game.

It was tight for much of the second half, but after Lekso Kaulashvili had been sent to the sin-bin late on, the Chiefs ran in scores through Byron McGuigan and Fetu’u Vainikolo to secure the bonus point.

With both teams trying to run the ball, especially in the first half, the Chiefs made enough of their chances to build a lead, before comfortably seeing out the win.

La Rochelle looked dangerous early on with Levani Botia making headway down the left and only denied a try by a last-gasp James tackle.

The home side kept the ball alive and almost had a try when Steenson knocked on but the ball was hacked just too long and went dead.

The opening ten minutes were all La Rochelle, but it was Exeter who took the lead with a Steenson penalty after Jules Lebail had missed an early shot for the home side.

Both sides clearly wanted to keep ball in hand, with Lebail and Ian Whitten enjoying dangerous runs in one end-to-end passage during which both sides nearly scored.

The Chiefs then got hold of the ball for an extended period for the first time and looked certain to score, but after countless charges had been repelled, a knock-on allowed the home side to clear.

Still Exeter looked to be in the ascendancy and twice in close succession they almost got over, first when Matt Jess was dragged into touch just short of the line by Damien Cler, before Sturgess had a try disallowed for a knock-on by Ryan Caldwell as he stole the resulting lineout.

They finally did get the first try just before the half-hour, and it was a fantastic team effort. It started with a turnover that allowed McGuigan to make huge inroads only to be clipped by the final covering tackler.

He was able to flick the ball to James though and the Welsh winger found Lees, who flicked it straight back to him to score. Steenson added the simple conversion to make it 10-0 to the visitors.

And two minutes later Sturgess had his try, collecting a little offload from Kai Horstmann to sprint over. Steenson’s conversion made it a daunting 17-0 lead.

It looked as though the floodgates might open but the home side hit straight back. After choosing to kick to the corner from a penalty, they recycled the ball, and Lebail’s little chip over the top landed in Jean-Pascal Barraque’s arms for the simplest of scores. Julien Audy converted to get the French side back in it.

That was how it remained until the break, but La Rochelle almost had their second try early in the second half when Kini Murimurivalu chipped over the top, but he couldn’t quite regather as the Chiefs’ defence scrambled to get back.

They earned a penalty from the scrum however, and Audy added three points to bring his team to within a score, trailing 17-10.

The home side were back in it, but Exeter responded well with two Steenson penalties in quick succession, with the fly-half continuing his flawless evening from the kicking tee.

And they made the game safe on the hour when La Rochelle were caught offside and Steenson added another penalty to make it a three-score game.

La Rochelle kept going but struggled to break down their English opponents, and they fell apart once Kaulashvili was yellow-carded for pulling down a maul.

With the extra man the Chiefs went over twice on the left in the last eight minutes to make it maximum points before the reverse fixture next weekend.

The scorers:

For La Rochelle:
Try: Barraque
Con: Audy
Pen: Audy
Yellow Card: Kaulashvili

For Exeter:
Tries: James, Sturgess, McGuigan, Vainikolo
Cons: Steenson 2
Pens: Steenson 4

La Rochelle: 15 Jean-Pascal Barraque, 14 Levani Botia, 13 Kini Murimurivalu, 12 Hamish Gard, 11 Damien Cler, 10 Jules Lebail, 9 Julien Audy, 8 Loann Goujon, 7 Nicolas Djebaili (c), 6 Benoit Guyot, 5 Leandro Cedaro, 4 Jacobus Grobler, 3 Benoit Bourrust, 2 Benjamin Geledan, 1 Jordan Seneca
Replacements: 16 Rassie van Vuuren, 17 Vincent Pelo, 18 Lekso Kaulashvili, 19 Albain Meron, 20 Jone Qovu, 21 Kevin Gourdon, 22 Fabien Fortassin, 23 Hamish Gard

Exeter: 15 Byron McGuigan, 14 Matt Jess, 13 Adam Hughes, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 Tom James, 10 Gareth Steenson (c), 9 Haydn Thomas, 8 Kai Horstmann, 7 Ben White, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Ryan Caldwell, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Moray Low, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Brett Sturgess
Replacements: 16 Greg Bateman, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Alex Brown, 19 Dean Mumm, 20 James Scaysbrook, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Ceri Sweeney, 23 Fetu’u Vainikolo

Referee: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)