Freddie Burns snatched a late win for Gloucester Rugby on the kind of wet Kingsholm afternoon that could go a long way to deciding play-off places at the end of the year, seeing off sixth-placed Exeter Chiefs 18-16.
In his first Aviva Premiership game since beating the All Blacks, Burns kicked six penalties, including a 73rd minute winner, to end the Chiefs’ eight-game unbeaten run in all competitions.
Level at the break, it was the home side that came out firing – and despite some impressive Exeter play on both sides of the ball – the England man was the difference when it mattered, stepping up and taking over, both with his tactical kicking and from the tee.
A dominant start in the scrum by Gloucester’s impressive young front row saw the home side win a penalty just outside Exeter’s 22m. Burns shook off an early knock to put his side ahead ten minutes in.
Outside of the scrum however, it was the Chiefs who were looking more comfortable, the boot of full-back Luke Arscott finding space in behind Charlie Sharples on several occasions, pinning the Cherry and Whites deep in their own half.
An Arscott chip on 18 minutes earned his side a penalty after Gloucester impeded his chase – with the home side compounding their mistake, being penalised a further 10m for ill-discipline. Irishman Gareth Steenson knocked over a difficult kick in the heavy conditions to level the scores.
Breaking from deep through a series a nice offloads, the Chiefs demonstrated why they lead the league in tries.
Despite aggressive defence from captain Jim Hamilton, Gloucester appeared unable to stop Exeter, eventually sneaking offside to gift Steenson an easy penalty in front of the posts.
Ten minutes before the break though Gloucester came to life – Tonga’s Sione Kalamafoni powering through two tackles to break into Chiefs territory before first a Rob Cook chip and chase, and then a Jimmy Cowan dart came up just short. They were however rewarded with a penalty, which Burns knocked over to tie the game.
The England man misfired on a snapped drop-goal attempt just before the end of the first half leaving the score at 6-6 at the break.
Gloucester made a perfect start to the second-half – Burns stepping up with the rain hammering down to drill a penalty from half-way after Exeter were pinged for leaving their feet.
He then went close minutes later, hitting the left post before doubling his side’s lead with a penalty from 15m.
After making some half-time adjustments Exeter’s front-row bit back, blitzing the Gloucester scrum to win a penalty inside the home 22m – Steenson knocking it over to bring his side to within three points of the hosts.
Rob Baxter’s men then took the lead on 58 minutes through hooker Simon Alcott, stepping inside to beat a drifting defence from close range, in what finished an awesome display of ball retention by Exeter – Thomas pulling the strings as his side moved the ball left and right for over 20 phases.
By contrast the home side struggled to build any momentum in the Exeter half, however Burns kept them in touch, hitting back from the tee on 65 minutes to bring them within a point 15-16.
With the clock winding down, Exeter gave up another breakdown penalty in their defensive third, and Burns stepped up to steal the win 18-16.