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Aviva Premiership A League Final Report

01 May 2012
Aviva Premiership A League Final Report

Exeter Braves are the 2011/12 Aviva Premiership A League champions after they sunk visiting Harlequins 29-9 at a wet and windy Sandy Park.

A penalty try, coupled with touchdowns for Jack Arnott and Chad Slade, ensured the Braves ended their campaign with an unblemished record in the competition.

Fly-half Myles Dorrian did the rest of the damage for the home side as he converted the final try to go alongside four earlier penalties.

In reply, Harlequins countered with three penalties of their own from fly-half Rory Clegg. However, it was not enough to prevent the top flight's new additions from claiming their first piece of Premier silverware.

Undefeated in the A League all season, the Braves entered into this final showpiece in buoyant mood and with virtually the same starting line-up that had defeated Leicester Tigers in the semi-final the week previous.

The home side's sole change came at scrum-half where Aussie Pat Phibbs was ruled out through injury, so former Harlequins player Junior Poluleuligaga came in to fill the number nine jersey with Kevin Barrett added to the bench.

Harlequins, fresh from their own semi-final win at Northampton Saints, also arrived with a powerful line-up that included a number of established first team stars such as Matt Hopper, Tom Casson, Will Skinner and Clegg, who gave his side an early lead when he spotted a penalty after three minutes after the home side had been penalised for infringing at a ruck.

Minutes later and Clegg had the chance to double his tally when the Braves were pulled up by referee Andrew Small for illegally binding at a scrum bang on halfway. This time the Quins' No.10 was unable to hit the mark with his lengthy punt and the scoreline remained unchanged.

The Braves made the most of the let-off and they levelled the game up on 14 minutes when fly-half Dorrian slotted a straight-forward penalty from 22 metres out.

Clegg and Dorrian traded penalties apiece to take the score onto six-all, before the Braves edged in front for the first time just past the first quarter. A powerful shove from the Exeter eight midway inside the Harlequins half saw the visiting pack crumble and up stepped Dorrian to administer a third successful kick of the night.

The kicking duel between the respective No.10s was dominating proceedings and Clegg restored parity just moments later when he dispatched a quality kick from wide on the right after the Braves fell afoul of referee Small for taking out Chris York in the air.

The stalemate didn't last long, however, as the Braves – who had beaten their rivals twice already this season – claimed the opening try of the night on 34 minutes. Using their forwards to punch a hole through the middle, the Braves worked the ball back to Dorrian, whose clever grubber kick in behind the visiting defence put Quins on the back foot.

Initially their appeared no real danger, but when scrum-half Karl Dickson fumbled on his own line, it gifted Exeter Academy youngster Arnott the perfect opportunity to pounce for a score, which Dorrian was unable to convert from wide on the right.

As overhead conditions worsened during the half-time break, it was the Braves who emerged the brighter on the resumption as some strong running from forwards Dave Ewers and Chad Slade allowed the Devonians the opportunity to get on the front foot and pen Harlequins back deep inside their own 22.

Although the initial pressure failed to bring any real reward, the Braves finally made the breakthrough on 49 minutes when Dorrian landed his fourth penalty of the night after visiting flanker Luke Wallace was adjudged not to have released at the tackle deep inside his own 22.

With the inclement weather doing little to help either side's attacking endeavours, it was Harlequins who had the chance to reduce the deficit just before the hour mark when Clegg was afforded another pot at goal following another indiscretion by the Chiefs front-row at a scrum. Sadly for Clegg, his effort from 40 metres out caught on the wind and the chance was lost.

The Braves duly made the most of the missed chance and having added Luke Cowan-Dickie and Aly Muldowney into the fray for Chris Budgen and Chris Bentley, the latter making his final appearance for the club, the fresh muscle up front helped work the perfect opening for Exeter's second unconverted try of the game.

Using a line-out drill just inside the Harlequins 22, the Braves merged as one up front to drive in field towards the visiting line. Although Harlequins did well to repel the initial wave of attacks, they could do little when Exeter drove for a third time, powering skipper Chad Slade over from close range much to the delight of the home faithful.

The Samoan's touchdown gave Exeter the perfect breathing space entering the final stages and with both sides having run their benches, it was the Exeter young-guns of Luke Cowan-Dickie, Jon Vickers and Lloyd Fairbrother who helped to add the coup de grace as their robust scrummaging helped to win Exeter a penalty try, converted by Dorrian, with virtually the final play of the game.

It was a fitting conclusion to what has been a memorable season for the Braves, who throughout this memorable campaign have ably combined youth with experience to great effect.

Braves: L Arscott (H Slade 69); J Arnott (C Crane 79), N Sestaret, S Hill, M Foster; M Dorrian, J Poluleuligaga (K Barrett 60); C Budgen (L Cowan-Dickie 63), S Alcott (J Vickers 76), J Andress (L Fairbrother 79); C Bentley (A Muldowney 63), C Slade (capt, H Stupple 76); D Ewers, B White, J Phillips.

Tries – Arnott, C Slade, Penalty Try; Conversion – Dorrian; Penalties – Dorrian (4)

Harlequins: R Chisholm (O Lindsay-Hague 69); S Stegmann, M Hopper, T Casson (B Urdapilleta 64), C Walker; R Clegg, K Dickson (R Bolt 72); M Lambert (D Marfo 52), A Croall (T Standfield 72), W Collier (K Sinckler 66); S Twomey (G Merrick 63), P Browne L Wallace, W Skinner (capt), C York (J Trayfoot 52).

Penalties – Clegg (3)

Referee: A Small

Attendance: 2,368

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