Exeter Chiefs were saved by the upright as they got their LV= Cup title defence off to a winning start against Gloucester Rugby.
The Cherry & Whites enjoyed much of the possession and territory before the break but with just a Gareth Evans try to show for it, Adam Hughes intercepted deep in his own half and raced away to peg them back.
Bill Meakes drew first blood after half-time for the visitors but they still couldn’t shake off a persistent Chiefs side, who hit back through Fetu’u Vainikolo.
Yann Thomas bundled over to hand Gloucester the advantage once more but Exeter’s pack were awarded a late penalty try before Aled Thomas’ last-gasp penalty bounced clear off the post.
Mark Atkinson found his way through a gap early on before offloading to Meakes and when the Chiefs failed to release in the tackle, fly-half Aled Thomas sent the close-range penalty between the uprights.
Just a couple of minutes later Gloucester were pinged for a similar offence 30 metres from their line and, with the stiff breeze behind him, Ceri Sweeney had no trouble drawing his side level.
Atkinson continued to look lively, picking another tight gap but he was unable to find Steve McColl on his shoulder and a knock-on handed possession back to Exeter.
With Gloucester struggling to turn dominance into points Aled Thomas pointed to the posts after Gloucester’s scrum won a penalty against the head, but the Welshman’s effort missed the target.
McColl was next to go flying through the Exeter defence only for a lack of support to see the move break down – but the visitors were not to be deterred, forcing their hosts to concede a string of penalties and repeatedly finding touch to ramp up the pressure.
Those infringements finally told shortly after the half-hour mark when prop Brett Sturgess was shown a yellow card and it took just two minutes for a series of pick-and-drives to end with Evans powering over and Aled Thomas adding the extras.
But despite all their desperate defending Exeter were suddenly level, Hughes intercepting and sprinting 70 metres to dot down – and Sweeney’s conversion made it 10-10 at half-time.
Exeter were immediately ahead after the break, Sweeney notching his second penalty, but it lasted less than 60 seconds.
Loose handling from the hosts allowed Meakes to collect a loose ball and streak over the line unchallenged, while Thomas expertly navigated the wind to make it 17-13 with the conversion.
Gloucester’s first-half dominance in the scrum continued and Aled Thomas was the beneficiary, sending a penalty over to extend the lead, but at last the hosts found some persistent pressure.
Camped on their own line 15 minutes into the half, Cherry & Whites duo Evans and Dan Robson took turns to halt a powerful drive – but the resistance didn’t last.
Vainkolo was first to react when Exeter were awarded a penalty and the Tongan winger burrowed over in the corner, though Sweeney couldn’t level the scores from the tee.
Gloucester managed to restore some daylight between the sides, with the help of the TMO, as Aled Thomas was involved in a neat move that saw his namesake Yann cross over before converting the score himself.
Sweeney moved them back within a score with another penalty and with five minutes left on the clock he opted not to go for the posts again, aiming for the corner instead.
With only a converted try good enough for the hosts, Gloucester buckled under the pressure of a series of Chiefs scrums, conceding a penalty try – and Sweeney’s conversion put them ahead.
And Aled Thomas was handed one final opportunity to win it for his side, only to see his long-distance penalty bounce off the post and away.
Be part of the rugby family at the LV= Cup Final at Franklin's Gardens, Northampton on Sunday 22 March. Visit www.northamptonsaints.co.uk for tickets.