Gareth Steenson celebrated his 150th league appearance for Exeter Chiefs with a try as he and the returning Jack Nowell helped secure a first Aviva Premiership Rugby win of the new season against London Irish.
Returning to Sandy Park, the Chiefs never looked back from Steenson’s early try as scores from Don Armand, Luke Cowan-Dickie, James Short and a Nowell double crowned the bonus-point victory.
Fly-half Steenson, who led the team out, couldn’t get the hosts on the scoreboard in the first minute as his penalty was just wide.
And despite a powerful break from Thomas Waldrom on six minutes, the big No. 8 wasn’t able to hold onto the ball in the tackle and Irish were able to clear their lines after a steady scrum.
The Chiefs didn’t have to wait long though for their next opportunity as a collapsed Irish scrum allowed them the chance to attack from the line-out.
And after some excellent work from the forwards it was man-of-the-moment Steenson who split the Irish defence to go over on 13 minutes, although he couldn’t add the extras.
The visitors were on the board three minutes later as a scrum penalty against the Chiefs allowed Chris Noakes to reduce the deficit to 5-3.
A superb maul from a Chiefs line-out set up a break for Will Chudley but the scrum-half spilled the ball allowing Irish to clear.
But the pressure told once more as successive waves of attack from the forwards saw Armand dot down; this time Steenson converting for a 12-3 lead.
A fantastic Nowell break from defence allowed Chiefs another chance to put their line-out into action and after Damien Welch claimed it successfully, there was only going to be one outcome.
The TMO was called into action as the maul went over the line but Cowan-Dickie was able to apply the finish, with Steenson again successful for 19-3.
Noakes was allowed another shot at the posts after Chiefs were penalised and slotted his second penalty of the game to take the teams into half-time trailing by 13 points.
Rob Baxter’s men were fast out of the traps after the break and had their fourth try within two minutes of the restart as a superb attack, built on speed and excellent handling, saw Short dive over.
Another conversion from Steenson saw the lead move on to 26-6 but a series of penalties for Irish had the hosts under pressure for the next few minutes.
But when Irish elected to go for a cross-field kick in search of a score, Nowell had other ideas as he claimed the kick five metres from his own try-line and ran the length of the field to score.
The Exiles did finally get their set-piece going and from a five-metre line-out a maul enabled Blair Cowan to score; Noakes hitting the post with his conversion attempt.
Irish then did well to repel the Chiefs, who were held up on the line after a series of pick and go attempts, and despite gaining a five-metre scrum they couldn’t extend their advantage.
With ten minutes remaining Tom Fowlie thought he had got another try for the visitors but the TMO ruled otherwise.
And it was Nowell who had the final say as an Irish chip kick in their own 22 went horribly wrong and allowed the wing to pick up and score his second of the game. Steenson converted to wrap up the 38-11 win.
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