Charlie Walker crashed over in a scintillating first half for Harlequins
28 December 2013, 05:52 pm ::
By Chris Bailey
Harlequins 22 Exeter Chiefs 6
Twickenham provided the backdrop for a thrilling Harlequins display as Conor O'Shea's men downed Exeter Chiefs 22-6 in Big Game 6.
Nick Evans, Charlie Walker and Mike Brown all found their way through a shell-shocked Chiefs in the first half, who struggled to get their own attacking game going.
Two penalties from Gareth Steenson was all Exeter had to show for their efforts while Evans, who did not his finest outing with the boot, collected seven points.
A packed Twickenham was the perfect venue for a clash that could mean so much when the Aviva Premiership is all said and done, as both sides battle to make the top four.
One point separated fourth-placed Quins from the Chiefs in fifth before kick-off but if past form at the home of rugby was anything to go by, O'Shea's troops - with four wins at Twickenham on the bounce - held the upper hand.
Their start backed that impressive record up as Quins ball was recycled rapidly to the left for a monstrous overlap, Evans the man to race through unopposed and dot down.
The Kiwi converted his own try but the Chiefs hit back and thundered into Quins territory almost immediately from kick-off.
Rob Baxter's men went on to force a penalty after Matt Hopper's illegal tackle, Steenson pushng the simplest of three pointers between the posts.
Quins' ferocious opening showed no signs of abating however and they nearly outfoxed their opponents from an attacking line-out, Danny Care receiving the ball over the top only for Sam Smith to eventually be hauled down at the last.
For all of their menace points were not flowing as Evans, who has more than 1,000 points to his name in the Aviva Premiership, uncharacteristically missed two chances from the kicking tee in quick succession.
Brown was the next Quins man to let a golden opportunity go to waste as following his break, the full-back decided to go for the try-line himself despite a wide open Walker to his right.
Instead he was smothered up and on the half-hour mark it was Walker, finally, who made a chance stick.
With Nick Easter at its fulcrum, Quins' pack combined to stretch the Chiefs' line and the ball worked its way to the right for a shimmying Walker to blast over the whitewash.
To make matters worse for Exeter, Jack Nowell was sin binned for a tip tackle on Hopper during the final offload - and they were made to pay for it just before the break.
Dave Ward stripped the ball near halfway before Care burst into space, selflessly offloading to Brown who cantered over for the score.
Evans made no mistake with the extras but it was opposing fly-half Steenson who kicked his side a vital penalty early in the second half.
By doing so the 29-year-old moved to second spot in Exeter's all-time point-scoring list as his team began to put a leash on the Londoners' relentless attack.
However they were failing to oppose themselves at the set-piece and it wasn't long before Chris Robshaw and company started to turn the screw again in the search for a bonus-point try.
Lightning-quick passing was dotted with small errors, Tom Casson and Smith inches away from playing the killer ball as Quins pounded on the door.
No try came but play was called back for a penalty before Evans resumed normal form to drill over.
Shortly after, in a move that perhaps summed up the Chiefs day, full-back Luke Arscott could not quite gather the ball in with the tryline looming after the ball had been spread to the right.
And the West Country outfit went even closer in the dying stages when Tom Johnson took a tap penalty two metres away from the whitewash but stout defending, again involving the ever-present Easter, denied him by inches.