Gloucester picked up a priceless Aviva Premiership triumph on Saturday, winning 26-25 against Exeter Chiefs in an epic contest at Sandy Park.
From 0-6 at half-time, the second 40 minutes produced five tries as the game came to life, with only the width of a post costing Exeter the four points.
Gloucester won’t care about that though as they took their chances when they came, with centre Billy Twelvetrees’ long-range drop-goal proving critical.
Although Exeter created most of the try-scoring opportunities in the first-half, it was the Cherry and Whites who took their chances and went into the break 6-0 up through two Greig Laidlaw penalties.
It was a dour game of rugby in the opening period, but things improved markedly after the interval. Twelvetrees kicked a drop-goal for the visitors before three tries in as many minutes – the first two for the Chiefs’ Jack Nowell and Matt Jess and the third for the away side from Tom Savage – opened the match up.
Gareth Steenson then kicked two penalties to Laidlaw’s one as the Chiefs went into the lead as the match entered the final quarter, but Ben Morgan’s try secured the win for Gloucester, although Thomas Waldrom’s score gave Exeter a losing bonus-point.
The hosts started the season well, securing seven victories in their first nine games, but have struggled over the previous two weeks. They had been overpowered by both Sale Sharks and Bath and were therefore looking to get back on track, but against a Gloucester side who were similarly low on confidence, the opening 40 minutes was a disappointing affair.
David Humphreys’ men played a more pragmatic game in comparison to the expansive home side, but it worked in the first half. Just three minutes had elapsed when the Chiefs infringed and Laidlaw kicked the Kingsholm-based outfit into a 3-0 advantage.
Rob Baxter’s team then persistently threatened for the next quarter of an hour as they looked to move ahead of the visitors. Nowell almost scored, Henry Slade showed touches of class and Phil Dollman also made metres with ball in hand, but the Cherry and Whites remained resilient and it was Laidlaw who extended their lead at the interval via his second three-pointer.
The second period initially began with the same pattern as the first when Twelvetrees kicked a drop-goal to take Gloucester 9-0 in front. However, Exeter finally scored the try their build-up play deserved as Nowell wriggled through several would-be tacklers to touch down.
An intercept try from Jess gave the hosts the advantage for the first time but a remarkable passage of play ended when another Chiefs’ mistake resulted in Savage crossing the whitewash.
Laidlaw and Steenson then traded penalties before the Irish fly-half added another from the tee to take Exeter ahead.
But the visitors weren’t finished and Morgan’s score secured a crucial win for Gloucester. The hosts had the chance to win it when Waldrom went over, but Steenson surprisingly missed the conversion.
Tries: Nowell, Jess, Waldrom
Con: Steenson 2
Pen: Steenson 2
Tries: Savage, Morgan
Con: Laidlaw 2
Pen: Laidlaw 3
Exeter: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Will Chudley, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Don Armand, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Mitch Lees, 4 Dean Mumm (c), 3 Moray Low, 2 Jack Yeandle, 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Jerry Sexton, 20 Ben White, 21 Haydn Thomas, 22 Ian Whitten, 23 Byron McGuigan.
Gloucester: 15 Charlie Sharples, 14 David Halaifonua, 13 Mark Atkinson, 12 Billy Twelvetrees (c), 11 Jonny May, 10 James Hook, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 Tom Palmer, 4 Tom Savage, 3 John Afoa, 2 Darren Dawidiuk, 1 Nick Wood.
Replacements: 16 Aleki Lutui, 17 Yann Thomas, 18 Shaun Knight, 19 Elliott Stooke, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Billy Burns, 23 Bill Meakes.
Referee: Tim Wigglesworth
Assistant referees: Luke Pearce and Robin Goodliffe
Television match official: Keith Lewis