Sam Simmonds showed a remarkable burst of pace to score his first try
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- Harlequins 3 Exeter Chiefs 33
It was not quite as if Exeter had walked straight across the road after their Premiership final win at Twickenham 27 days ago and straight onto the Harlequins pitch, but it was not far off. There was the usual control, the usual frightful power and more majesty from those Simmonds brothers. This time it was the elder, Sam, whose astounding hat-trick of tries helped his side to this bonus-point win and ensured they remain the team to beat.
Sam Simmonds’ performance, too, offered a prescient reminder of what England are keeping locked away in Devon. Rob Baxter, his director of rugby, said Exeter’s relative lack of international recognition was “burning” in them.
“We have players here who are not with England, so there was a point to prove there," Baxter said. "You have to make your turn happen. And that’s what [Sam’s] doing – he’s making sure his time will come.”
At times, the home side did give the champions food for thought, and Exeter’s late flurry of tries did make the contest seem more one-sided than it was. Harlequins whipped the ball about accurately at times, with half-backs Danny Care and Marcus Smith providing impressive direction, and some of their thunderclap tackling did momentarily knock the wind out of the Chiefs’ sail.
Against Exeter, however, you must take every chance that befalls you. The hosts often grafted for good field position and, while their willingness to chuck the ball about might have looked pretty, three measly points in the first 40 minutes – from the boot of Smith – was never going to be enough against a Chiefs side that has built a reputation on the insidious way in which it matures into matches.
Soon enough, Exeter struck in an instant. The Simmonds brothers combined on halfway, with Sam ghosting through a Harlequins midfield gap. He stepped off his right foot to bamboozle Nathan Earle, with his locomotive acceleration taking him away from the cover defence. It was an extraordinary try, which fly-half Joe Simmonds converted, and the writing already looked on the wall for Harlequins.
“It’s s—, isn’t it,” said Harlequins’ director of rugby, Paul Gustard. “It’s a kick in the balls. We felt really confident going into the game and we felt like we had a good game plan.”
Once Exeter had their noses in front, it always looked too great a challenge for Harlequins. Flanker Dave Ewers extended Exeter’s lead after a motoring maul, and the game looked dead and buried. When Harlequins centre Luke Northmore had a try ruled out due to No 8 Alex Dombrandt’s cumbersome blocking line, it was.
But this match was not a complete catastrophe for Harlequins. Yes, they were well beaten at home, but Exeter are champions of both England and Europe for a reason. Harlequins openside Will Evans made a valid case for the game’s outstanding player – alongside Sam Simmonds – and his back-row partner Dombrandt showed touches of brilliance, too. These are two relatively young men around whom a side should be built.
Not even that sprightly duo could stop the Chiefs, however, and another Sam Simmonds try, again from a lineout maul, gave his side breathing space, before his hat-trick score – another from close range – ensured Exeter finished with a flourish. Replacement Stu Townsend’s late try was the final touch on Exeter’s first win at the Stoop since 2018.
Harlequins starting XV: M Brown, N Earle (T Green 56), L Northmore (B Tapuai 68), A Esterhuizen, C Murley, M Smith, D Care; S Garcia Botta (J Els 47), S Baldwin, W Louw (S Kerrod 47), M Symons (G Young 15), S Lewies, T Lawday (A White 64), W Evans, A Dombrandt. Replacements not used: J Musk, J Stafford.
Exeter starting XV: F Cordero (T Hendrickson 53), T O’Flaherty, I Whitten, O Devoto (H Skinner 73), O Woodburn, J Simmonds (c), J Maunder (S Townsend 61); A Hepburn (B Moon 56), J Yeandle (c) (L Cowan-Dickie 58), H Williams (M Street 64), W Witty (T Price 70), D Armand, D Ewers (R Capstick 77), J Kirsten, S Simmonds.
Referee: Christophe Ridley