Skills coach Ricky Pellow tipped his cap to a superb second-half effort from Exeter Chiefs, as his charges pulled away from Harlequins to reach their third straight Anglo-Welsh Cup final on Sunday.
The hosts were rampant at Sandy Park, denying the London side the chance to compete in a final on home soil next weekend – as the competition’s showpiece heads to the Twickenham Stoop.
Early scores from Lachlan Turner and Max Bodilly put Chiefs in control of the clash, and in truth the half-time margin of 14-0 could have been greater, with the Exeter pack dominating proceedings.
FULL TIME: Exeter Chiefs 24 Harlequins 7
WE ARE THROUGH TO THE ANGLO-WELSH CUP FINAL pic.twitter.com/XCkabOKKpQ
— Exeter Chiefs (@ExeterChiefs) March 12, 2017
And Julian Salvi and Sam Simmonds put the gloss on the 24-7 victory after the interval – with Calum Waters’ last-gasp score a mere consolation for Quins.
“Fair play to our guys,” said Pellow. “They really came out at the start of the second half and took a stranglehold of the game, and to pull away like we did was really pleasing.
“It goes right down to our junior academy players; everyone at the club knows how we want to play from an early age, so you can see today with the likes of Sam Simmonds, Joe Simmonds, and Stu Townsend – they’ve had years of playing in this style.
“They are confident in how we want to play so they can maximise every action, which is really pleasing.
“Harlequins are a side that were going to try and play ball in hand like ourselves, and in terms of defensive sets, we stepped up in the second half even though they kept coming at us.
“We forced a lot of errors, and as the game went on we got on top of them defensively.
“Stu [Townsend] and Joe [Simmonds] have grown as a half-back partnership, and are not just able to step up in this competition, but also in the Aviva Premiership.
“They can play in these games but also in the league, which is what you are looking to produce from your academy.”
— BT Sport Rugby (@btsportrugby) March 12, 2017
Harlequins thought they had drawn first blood in the match with Charlie Walker crossing the whitewash in the sixth minute, and the contest could have been very different had the TMO not ruled out the score for a knock-on by Charlie Matthews.
But director of rugby John Kingston admitted his side were second best on the day, despite working hard throughout the match.
He said: “Clearly we’re very disappointed; you reach a semi-final and you always want to get to the final, and a lot has been said about it being at the Stoop as well – that would have been the perfect situation for us.
“But on the day we weren’t quite good enough. Exeter edged us up front over the course of the 80 minutes, and I thought their kicking game and control of field position was better than ours.
“We had the wind at our backs in the second half and at 14-0 we should have been in a position to put some real pressure on them.
“We did that for ten minutes or so, but then we lost field position and that allowed them to gradually take the game away from us.
“So, well played to them, but while we are disappointed there was no lack of effort from our guys at all. They worked hard the whole game and weren’t prepared to lie down – you saw that at the end.”
📷 Match Shot | A try on debut for Calum Waters pic.twitter.com/zKU6O2dDTj
— Harlequins 🃏 (@Harlequins) March 12, 2017
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Exeter Chiefs: Turner, Jess, Devoto (Hendrickson 69), S Hill, Bodilly, J Simmonds (Hooley 75), Townsend (Thomas 64), Moon (Keast 69), Malton (Taione 57), Williams (Low 57), Atkins, Welch (J Hill 51), Johnson (Ewers 51), Salvi, S Simmonds
Harlequins: Chisholm, Walker, Marchant, Hopper (Yarde 57), Alofa, Jackson (Lang 57), L Jones (Waters 15), Lambert (Evans 57), Gray (Buchanan 51), A Jones (Shields 46), Merrick, Matthews (Hodson 66), Naupou (South 15), Ward, Luamanu
Exeter Chiefs 24
Tries: Turner, Bodilly, Salvi, S Simmonds
Cons: J Simmonds (2)
Referee: Dan Jones (Wales)