London Irish fly-half Ian Humphreys’ three-minute absence from the action at the Madejski Stadium proved pivotal in setting Exeter Chiefs up for their first Aviva Premiership away win this season by a score of 27-23.
With Exeter racing into a 21-3 lead after just 20 minutes, it was the Irish No. 10’s 13 points and tactical play which clawed his side back into the game.
But when his team won a 58th minute penalty to re-take the lead, Humphreys was receiving treatment on the side of the pitch.
Full-back Tom Homer stepped up but erred with the execution leaving Humphreys’ opposite man Gareth Steenson to kick the winning points two minutes from time.
Exeter had come out of the blocks much quicker with tries from Phil Dollman and Luke Arscott but the Exiles replied before halftime through Leo Halavatau and then just after the break via Topsy Ojo.
But although the home side briefly took a 23-21 lead in the second half they sunk to another defeat and are now winless in the Premiership since the beginning of October.
Chiefs centre Dollman was on the scoresheet after just two minutes with a determined charge to the line in the left-hand corner.
Winger Matt Jess had made the outside break into Irish’s 22 to set up the try and although Steenson failed with the conversion, he then hit three penalties on the spin.
Irish were simply not at the races but Humphreys had got his side on the scoreboard, in between his opposite man’s trio of three-pointers, with a penalty from in front of the posts.
But at 14-3 up, the Chiefs’ superb start was still in full cry and Jess was again the catalyst.
The Coventry-born winger leapt onto livewire scrum-half Haydn Thomas’s pass and steamed through a gap in Irish’s defence before offloading to his supporting full-back Arscott to dive over and Steenson easily converted.
Humphreys doubled Irish’s tally to six just after 20 minutes but thoughts of getting even with Exeter by putting the ball through the hands had to be abandoned as the rain came thundering down.
Instead Irish tightened up and the home side drove prop Halavatau over in the right corner with his fly-half converting from a testing angle to make it 21-13 to the Devon side at half-time.
Irish continued their resurgence after the break as No. 8 Chris Hala’ufia made a break close to the ruck.
When the ball came back, Humphreys kicked the ball to the right wing and the ball bounced perfectly for Ojo to slide onto for a superb try.
Humphreys converted and then struck a penalty from the halfway line to give the Exiles a 23-21 lead which seemed improbable just minutes earlier.
It kicked the Chiefs back into action, particularly the forward pack, who put the squeeze on the Exiles’ eight and won a penalty for Steenson re-take the lead.
The Exiles then earnt a shot a goal from wide on the left but Humphreys was absent and Homer could not find the mark.
Exeter saw out a fraught finale but Steenson added the gloss to a hard-won game with a late penalty to end their awayday woes.