Gloucester Rugby director of rugby David Humphreys was proud of his players’ response to recent adversity after a dramatic draw with Exeter Chiefs.
Gloucester had suffered back-to-back Aviva Premiership Rugby defeats to Newcastle Falcons and Bath Rugby but ended that losing streak thanks to an enthralling 27-27 draw with their West Country rivals.
Humphreys admits it could have been more – after seeing his side hold a 27-14 lead with 12 minutes remaining – but equally they could have left with no more than a losing bonus point as Gareth Steenson missed the winning conversion with the final kick of the game, following Damian Welch’s try.
And the former Irish international acknowledged that it was a case of mixed emotions after a rollercoaster day at Sandy Park.
“It is a hard one to sum up but I am honestly proud of how the players have responded after a tough couple of weeks,” said Humphreys.
“Anybody who will have watched that first 60 minutes, will have seen the commitment, the effort and the skill of taking opportunities.
“Everything was there and that’s why we believe we are a very good team. I thought they responded as you would expect from top-quality players.
“Then again, standing here after almost 70 minutes with a comfortable lead and we don’t see it out, it is obviously disappointing.
“Coming away with two points at Sandy Park, there is a positive to it. That is sometimes how you judge good teams – the energy that they bring and the commitment that they show.”
Gloucester established a healthy lead following first-half tries for the in-form Matt Scott and Charlie Sharples before Ben Morgan went over after the break.
Sharples’ score was a fairytale way to mark his 200th competitive appearance for the club and Humphreys was keen to commend the winger’s impact for the Cherry and Whites over the years.
“Charlie is absolutely devastated that we didn’t win but to play 200 games when he’s only 27 is an incredible achievement, as such loyalty is rarely shown in the modern-day environment,” added Humphreys.
“He’s the sort of player that the club needs to build itself around.”
For their part, Exeter crossed the whitewash through the unstoppable Thomas Waldrom and Ian Whitten in the first half, before Whitten dotted down after the break and Welch benefitted from an inexorable driving maul at the death.
Despite winning just two of their six Aviva Premiership Rugby matches this term, Chiefs lie fifth in the table and head coach Rob Baxter claims the derby demonstrated every side of Exeter’s game.
“The match was good, bad and ugly and we gave up some simple possession and points,” said Baxter. “We gave away two soft tries in the first half.
“The good part was our comeback as to score three times in the last ten minutes was fantastic and those ten minutes were probably the best we’ve played all season.
“We are not quite on our game – we carry out our game plans, show good character but need to step up a notch.”
Exeter Chiefs 27 Gloucester Rugby 27
Tries: Waldrom, Whitten 2, Welch
Conversions: Steenson 2
Tries: Scott, Sharples, Morgan
Conversions: Laidlaw 3
Penalties: Twelvetrees, Laidlaw
Referee: Greg Garner
Exeter Chiefs: Turner, Woodburn, Hill, Slade (Devoto 60), Whitten, Steenson, Chudley (Lewis 60), Moon (Rimmer 70), Cowan-Dickie (Yeandle, 65), Holmes (Williams 60), Lees (Welch 51), Parling, Dennis (Horstmann 51), Salvi, Waldrom
Replacements not used: Bodilly
Gloucester Rugby: Hook, Sharples (Thorley 70), Scott, Twelvetrees, Halaifonua, Atkinson, Laidlaw, McAllister (Thomas Y 49), Hibbard, Doran Jones, Savage (Latta 57), Galarza, Moriarty, Rowan (Kvesic 60), Morgan
Replacements not used: Matu’u, Thomas, Heinz, Ludlow