Jack Nowell’s excellent finish capped a fantastic Exeter Chiefs’ performance as they dominated Wasps 24-3 to move into second-place in the Aviva Premiership Rugby table and a step closer to a home semi-final.
Dai Young’s side did not make it into the Chiefs’ 22 until the 75th minute in what was an extraordinary defensive performance from the West Country men to deny Wasps a 12th win in 13 Aviva Premership Rugby fixtures.
OIlly Woodburn’s outstanding try was the difference at half-time and while Chiefs played with considerable adventure, turning down several kickable penalties to wield their much-vaunted driving maul, they perhaps deserved a greater return on their territorial dominance than a 7-3 lead at the break.
But that came in the second-half as Steenson nudged a penalty, while Nowell and Phil Dollman crossed to put the result beyond doubt – and with these sides likely to meet again in the semi-final, it was a huge statement from the Chiefs.
Hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie stole a rare march on George Smith two minutes in, lasering in on a lack of Wasps support to win an early penalty.
England team-mate Nowell was prominent in the opening exchanges, stepping in at scrum-half on numerous occasions and threatening around the fringes, while Cowan-Dickie was his usual robust self in the loose.
Both teams were playing with their typical ambition, attacking from deep, but Chiefs’ superb line-speed kept Wasps under the kosh, repeatedly forcing pivot Jimmy Gopperth down blind-alleys.
Chiefs gave further signal of their intent by opting for the corner ten minutes in – with a kickable three on offer – but were stymied by excellent Joe Launchbury’s maul defence.
Cowan-Dickie’s all-action display continued, the hooker helping Exeter push Wasps off their own ball and when Nathan Hughes managed to get the ball away, the England youngster was on hand to force another turnover at ruck-time.
It took a remarkable finish from Woodburn to finally break the stalemate after 27 minutes. Will Chudley spotted space on the blindside and picked out Woodburn, who proceeded to bump Frank Halai, keep his foot in play and then – with the tiniest of margins to play with – go through Joe Simpson and over. Steenson converted superbly.
Daly got in on the action with five minutes left in the half, banging over a penalty from halfway to bring them within four at the break.
Chiefs began the second-half in efficient fashion – a powerful scrum earning Steenson a shot at goal after just three minutes, which he thumped over from out wide before missing another moments later.
Baxter’s men had the bit between their teeth defensively and Wasps struggled to get any momentum going in attack, despite the best efforts of Hughes and Launchbury.
The pressure eventually told on Young’s men as Exeter combined their smothering defence with purposeful attack.
As Chiefs pressed, Ian Whitten and Dollman traded passes before the full-back picked a sharp line off Whitten then brushed past Daly’s tackle and under the sticks. Steenson converted to put Exeter 17-3 ahead with just over 20 minutes left.
James Short was then denied what would have been a remarkable score as a bobbling ball was ruled to be simultaneously grounded by Wasps’ replacement full-back Rob Miller.
But England’s Nowell added the gloss when he finished off a sweeping team move by breaking through three tackles before Steenson added the extras.