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Match Report: Exeter Chiefs 34 Wasps 23 Match Report: Exeter Chiefs 34 Wasps 23

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Match Report: Exeter Chiefs 34 Wasps 23

Exeter Chiefs battled the weather and a tenacious Wasps outfit to reach their maiden Aviva Premiership Rugby final, emerging 34-23 winners at Sandy Park.

On a ground where Wasps have never won, the Chiefs showed no nerves in their first semi-final, scoring four tries to avenge their Champions Cup loss earlier this season and set up a date with Saracens at Twickenham.

In difficult conditions Exeter opened up an early 6-0 lead thanks to two Gareth Steenson penalties but Wasps responded with the game’s opening try through Carlo Festuccia.

Ian Whitten hit back for Exeter, but that was cancelled out by Dan Robson, only for a penalty try to give the home side a 20-14 half-time lead.

Dave Ewers added a third Exeter try after the break as they led 27-20 going into the final quarter and while Gopperth pulled the visitors back into striking distance, the Chiefs secured a second penalty try to seal the win.

Exeter started the game on the front foot with an interminable succession of phases but Wasps defended well.
However eventually the pressure resulted in a penalty, with Nathan Hughes handling a loose ball on the floor and giving Steenson the chance to open the scoring after just four minutes.

Wasps’ first up defending was keeping the Chiefs at bay but they were struggling for possession, and after Matt Mullan coughed up the ball in the sodden conditions, a scrum penalty resulted in three more points from Steenson.

Chiefs led 6-0 after 11 minutes with Wasps still searching for their first possession in Exeter territory, but they took advantage when it came.

In previous encounters this season, Exeter’s powerful rolling maul has caused Wasps problems, but they turned the table this time around, with Festuccia getting over the line. Gopperth converted to give Wasps the lead despite playing against the wind and driving rain in the first half.

If Wasps were proving opportunistic, scoring from their first chance, Exeter hit straight back.

First Jack Nowell was just forced into touch after a great move off the back of a lineout, but when George Smith jumped a little early at another lineout, the England winger burst through and fed Whitten.

The former Ulster centre was scragged initially but not held and got back to his feet and powered over using the slippery surface to dive over. Steenson’s conversion made it 13-7.

Despite the atrocious conditions, both teams were trying to play open rugby and one fine passage from Wasps led to their second try.

Brilliant hands between the forwards got Exeter on the back foot, and after a drive from Hughes, Robson just held onto the ball long enough before sniping through a gap and over. Gopperth converted to put the visitors back in front.

Exeter almost responded immediately when a long kick from Henry Slade put Charles Piutau under pressure. The Chiefs recovered the ball and Don Armand went over, but a knock-on from Nowell in the build-up saw the try ruled out.

Still, Exeter finished the half in the ascendancy, with a succession of driving mauls leading to Wasps infringements and eventually a penalty try. To rub salt into the wounds Wasps lost hooker Festuccia for pulling down the maul. Steenson’s conversion made it 20-14 to Exeter at the break.

Despite being a man down, Wasps were first on the board in the second half, as a powerful scrum offered Gopperth the easiest of penalty attempts.

But as they had all game, Exeter responded quickly to conceding, showing their power to score a third try of the afternoon.

Patient build-up got Exeter in Wasps territory after a great take at the restart from Olly Woodburn. Then it was the Chiefs forward pack that outmuscled their opponents, with Ewers unstoppable from close range, and erupting with joy at touching down. Steenson’s conversion made it a two-score game for the first time, leading 27-17.

Another Gopperth penalty to Wasps back to within seven, as the visiting scrum started to turn the screw at the set-piece.

Sam Hill was then penalised for disrupting a ruck as he rolled away, allowing Gopperth to cut the deficit to just four points with 14 minutes remaining.

Just as Wasps had in the first half, Exeter were struggling to get out of their own territory playing into the wind.

Exeter were almost through when a loose pass from Joe Simpson almost went to Phil Dollman to race away for what would have been the clinching score. He couldn’t quite hold on though, giving Wasps a chance to nick it.

They didn’t help their chances when after a good break from Gopperth, Ashley Johnson tried a little kick through, straight into the hands of Woodburn.

And the crucial moment appeared to come with four minutes remaining when James Haskell went on the charge, but had the ball ripped off him by England teammate Nowell, handing the initiative back to the hosts.

They finished the game in Wasps territory and while a maul was stopped just short, a powerful scrum led to a penalty try for the Chiefs that Steenson converted to cap off the victory. 

If you want to be at the world's biggest club rugby final, this year's Aviva Premiership Rugby Final is on 28 May at Twickenham, tickets are available from premiershiprugby.com/final

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