London Welsh go into the third weekend of their debut Premiership season still in search of their first point, never mind a first win. By contrast, our visitors on Sunday, Exeter Chiefs, are currently sixth in the table having finished fifth last year in just their second season in the top flight. As a result they will be playing in the Heineken Cup this term, in Pool 5 with Leinster, Clermont Auvergne and the Scarlets, proving that the step up from the Championship is not insurmountable.
We have played the Chiefs more than any other team in league rugby, with 31 meetings dating back to 1989-90 in the old Courage League Three, when we lost 15-7 at the old County Ground en route to a second consecutive relegation. Once we returned to the National Leagues in 1995 we spent fourteen of the next fifteen seasons together, before Chiefs won the inaugural Championship play-offs, beating Bristol over two legs after finishing runners-up in the regular season. Although we have only won 10 of the previous league encounters, Welsh fans can take some encouragement that we beat the Chiefs twice in their promotion season, winning both home fixtures - 12-10 at ODP in January, and 16-15 in the play-offs at Esher in April. Both of those games went to the wire, with Welsh scoring a converted try via Bath loanee Guy Mercer in the final minute of the first fixture after Saul Nelson had opened the scoring for the visitors, and Danny Gray missing a touchline conversion after winger Mark Foster crossed with the last play of the game at Molesey Road. The Welsh hooker that afternoon was Chris Whitehead, who has since made 30 appearances for Exeter in the Premiership, including starting both games this season.
Joe Ajuwa on the defence against Quins
Exeter began this season with a 43-6 win over a Sale side which many pundits had predicted would be challenging the top four this season, and followed that up with a losing bonus point in a 24-21 defeat at Northampton last Sunday. They suffered their heaviest defeat of last season at Franklin’s Gardens (33-3) and defeat at home to the Saints in the penultimate round of fixtures ensured that it was the East Midlands club who snatched the final play-off berth from under their noses. But who would have dreamed just two years ago that they would be contemplating such glories at the Premiership play-offs and the Heineken Cup? It’s become common practice to tip the newly promoted club to be relegated at the first time of asking, but Exeter won their first match, at home to Gloucester (22-10) and seven days later gave the Tigers the fright of their lives at Welford Road, leading 20-10 at half-time and 27-16 after an hour, before falling to a 37-27 defeat. But they finished the season in 8th place, with ten wins and five losing bonus points, although they were one of three clubs (Leeds and Newcastle the others) to fail to register a single try-bonus. They duly corrected that particular statistic in week two of last term - when the pundits assured us that ‘second season syndrome’ would see them struggle to repeat their debut success - following up a 30-28 win at Welford Road on the opening weekend with four tries in a 32-15 win over the Falcons. A top six berth, and with it qualification for the Heineken Cup, was secured before the end of March, and everybody now wants to see just how far Rob Baxter can take this squad.
Exeter Chiefs are clearly the blueprint for how to build a Championship team to succeed in the Premiership. The foundations were laid with the move to Sandy Park from the old County Ground in the summer of 2006, a year after they had finished as runners-up to Bristol to achieve their highest ever placing in league rugby. The average crowd in the last season at the County Ground was 1,864, and crowds almost doubled in the first year at Sandy Park, to 3,351. Their promotion year saw an average of 4,853, growing to 8,157 last year, including five figure attendances for the visits of Harlequins and Northampton. Coach Ian Bremner had been relieved of his duties six months before the stadium move, as the Chiefs failed to build on the previous year’s success, and they duly finished sixth, significantly behind both Plymouth and the Pirates. His successor, Peter Drewett, was also sacked after achieving back-to-back second place finishes, and his assistant, Rob Baxter, who made over 200 league appearances for his hometown club, was promoted to the top job. And the rest, as they say is history; history that is being rewritten on an almost weekly basis.
Richard Baxter Exeter's ever-present Number 8 still going strong
Despite defeat at Northampton last weekend seeing them drop to sixth in the table, Exeter have the third-best attack in terms of both points (64) and tries (eight) scored; significantly, the top two on both measures are Harlequins (82 and ten) and Leicester (72 and nine), although whether this suggests that we have suffered from facing the two most potent attacking forces in the league or that their attacking stats are improved by playing the weakest team in the league is for you to decide. The Chiefs’ 43-6 win over Sale in round one was their biggest win and their highest score in the Premiership, although we can take some comfort from the ashes our defeat at the Stoop on Friday night from the fact that Exeter suffered their heaviest ever defeat in league rugby at that same venue when they lost 70-5 on 22nd October 2005, during Quins’ brief sojourn in National One. On the other hand, that was our biggest reverse since Leeds won 38-0 at ODP on 4th October 2008, and the first time we’ve conceded 40 points since a 40-10 horror show at home to Moseley on 27th October 2007. Now is probably not the time to mention that we’d also been thrashed 53-5 at Sandy Park just a fortnight before.
Welsh have received some favourable write-ups in defeat against the top two teams in the league, with a certain amount of sympathy given that we won’t face a more difficult sequence of fixtures - certainly not with such a short turnaround - and we will soon face supposedly ‘lesser’ opposition. But Exeter are rapidly establishing themselves in the upper echelons, and the old adage tells us that there are no easy games in the Premiership. The goodwill from scribes and fellow supporters will soon evaporate if we don’t start turning performances into points, with Mark Souster in The Times the first to twist the knife this week. But it’s worth remembering that Worcester took five matches to get a first win under their belt back in 2004-05, losing 30-9 at home to Newcastle in their first match before eventually dispatching Harlequins 33-7 at Sixways at the beginning of October, eight days after a 57-3 drubbing at Sale. Quins themselves had to wait until November to secure their first win upon their return to the Premiership two years later, losing their opening five fixtures, so there is time. Be patient.
Thank you for such a great write up on the Chiefs. Looking forward to Sunday and a great game though of course we hope to spoil your day a little by winning but you wouldn't expect anything less from a Chiefs supporter.
The good thing about you playing in Oxford is that my wife and I will at last visit what I am assured is a beautiful city. So if you see two Chiefs supporters fast asleep during the game you will know it is us and we will have walked our legs off over the previous couple of days.
So after Sunday and obviously your visit to Sandy Park I wish you all the luck for the rest of the season and hope you too can prove the pundits wrong.
I always enjoyed my trips to Exeter and without exception found the crowd friendly in defeat and victory. I'll never forget the match played in a gale at the County Ground where play was a bit interrupted by advertising hoarding blowing across the pitch. It could well be another defeat for Welsh bu there is some hope we might narrow the margin by eliminating some of the handling errors against Quins and by not awaiting attacks but going forward with verve and imagination. What do we know of the strengths of the Exeter pack?
DanFW3 I always enjoyed my trips to Exeter and without exception found the crowd friendly in defeat and victory. I'll never forget the match played in a gale at the County Ground where play was a bit interrupted by advertising hoarding blowing across the pitch. It could well be another defeat for Welsh bu there is some hope we might narrow the margin by eliminating some of the handling errors against Quins and by not awaiting attacks but going forward with verve and imagination. What do we know of the strengths of the Exeter pack?
It's one of the strongest in the Prem I'm afraid. Sturgess is widely recognised as a props' prop, Whitehead played for Welsh a few years ago but has improved dramatically, Tui will probably be out injured which will let in Craig Mitchell the Welsh international. The second row sees Tommy Hayes the inspirational Captain, great lineout jumper and good with ball in hand in partnership with any one of Ally Muldowney a rampaging ball carrying second row or James Hanks, Lineout captain and excellent ball carrier with Dean Mumm 33 times capped Australian International and Damian Welch ex NG Dragons waiting in the wings. The Back row is widely recognised as being outstanding, Tom Johnson is an incumbent England flanker, James Scaysbrook is more abrasive than he was at Bath and overdue an England call up and Richie Baxter, like good Claret, simply improves with age.
Against Sale we pushed them all over the park and took 4 out of 5 throw ins off them. Against Northampton we struggled with the rolling maul and suffered from JP Doyle's interpretation of the laws (so did Saints to be fair). The set piece has always been the foundation of Exe's game and the current scrum is probably only just behind Leicester's and Northampton's and on a par with Quins' based on the highlights that I have seen this season.
I'll never forget the match played in a gale at the County Ground where play was a bit interrupted by advertising hoarding blowing across the pitch.
I was there as well. We trailed 16 nil at half time playing into a gail force wind. At the start of the second half we were awarded a penalty which was duly kicked by Andy Lee. We followed this up with two converted tries to lead 17 16. Just before the final whistle EXETER were awarded a penalty which was to the right of the uprights and into the gail force wind this was missed and the final whistle blew. Win for LONDON WELSH 17 16. As i was leaving the ground Clive Grffiths was walking towards me, as we passed each other we both said in unison "Never in doubt". PADDYTAF.
I was just thinking about not going on Sunday. Because according to Exeforever they have the biggest, fastest, greatest, team not just in Britain but by the sounds of it the WHOLE WIDE WORLD. I'm not suggesting for one small moment that we may just may mind get something out of this game, but one thing i am CERTAIN about is that we will not just turn up for EXETER and give them an easy ride. PADDYTAF.
paddytaf I was just thinking about not going on Sunday. Because according to Exeforever they have the biggest, fastest, greatest, team not just in Britain but by the sounds of it the WHOLE WIDE WORLD. I'm not suggesting for one small moment that we may just may mind get something out of this game, but one thing i am CERTAIN about is that we will not just turn up for EXETER and give them an easy ride. PADDYTAF.
"GIVE THEM NO BALL OR BAD BALL WELSH"
It was not my intention to disrespect Welsh in any way PaddyTaf. I have been to too many Exe v Welsh games over the years to have anything other than the greatest respect for your club but I tried to give an accurate, if personal, answer to the question poised. I also said that we are not the best pack in the Prem let alone the universe but it is much the same as last year's pack and we did end up fifth in the Prem so it is not unreasonable to assert that it is, at least, better than 7 other packs in the Prem. Our backs are badly affected by injury by the way and we are likely to have at least three first choice players missing from the back 5.
15 Luke Arscott
14 Ian Whitten
13 Sireli Naqelevuki
12 Phil Dollman
11 Matt Jess
10 Ignacio Mieres
9 Will Chudley
1 Brett Sturgess
2 Chris Whitehead
3 Craig Mitchell
4 Tom Hayes (capt)
5 James Hanks
6 Tom Johnson
7 James Scaysbrook
8 Richard Baxter
16 Simon Alcott
17 Ben Moon
18 Carl Rimmer
19 Aly Muldowney
20 James Phillips
21 Kevin Barrett
22 Gareth Steenson
23 Jack Nowell
Today we really find out just how far we've come and if we are are in any way shape or form competitive in this league. Let's eradicate the basic errors from last week's game and try and impose ourselves on Chiefs. Not saying we will achieve that but that is the mindset the boys have to have stepping out on the park. More nervous today than the previous 2 weeks.
Cracking game, tense to the end. Great contrast to the error-strewn performance against Quins who got us by the throat early on and did not let us pause for breath. With two converted tries very early on, I feared it might go the same way, even though it took 11 minutes this time to go 14 points down instead of 7.
One of those was due to a botched feed from the back of a scrum close to the Exeter line which suddenly became a Chiefs breakaway which took sixty yards to stop, and then a second phase along the Chiefs backs line with a seriously bad piece of man-marking at the end letting Chiefs score with ease. It is pretty basic marking technique that you carry on marking the man opposite you on the touch line rather than tackle the man inside him only for a pass to go outside to the now unmarked player. The second try soon after involved some catch my ponytail attempts at tackling which no surprise were ineffectual.
But from then on Welsh matched Chiefs who I don't think scored again that half. Lineout technique seemed greatly improved with crisp delivery to scrum half. Our old friend Penalty Try did well for us scoring our first in the Prmiership and Nick Scott's interception try was a marvel, though I would carp - my recurring grouse about try-scoring whilst being pursued -that he could have gone closer to the posts to make it easier for Gordon Ross to convert, but he didn't have rear view mirrors to tell him he was safe enough. To say the second half was nail-biting understates it. A lot of see-sawing, with the risk that it could suddenly go out of reach. A great Ed Jackson try that must have been easier for the referee - right on the spot - to confirm than anyone else, with so many bodies over him. The clock was showing actual time remaining and the count down at the end from 7 to nil was just wonderful.
Exeter were no walkover but not quite in the same league a Tigers or Quins; even so, a very heartenng outcome. It confirmed to me that Mackenzie and Scott are the right wing-three quarter selection, which is amazing given how good Joe Ajuwa is, and we won the Battle of the Arscotts. Nice to see that the scores were all prominent last season in our Championship team - Gordon Ross, Nick Scott, Ed Jackson, Seb Jewell and Penalty Try - though we could not have done it without the new squad members.
DanFW3 Nice to see that the scores were all prominent last season in our Championship team - Gordon Ross, Nick Scott, Ed Jackson, Seb Jewell and Penalty Try...
Our old friend Penalty Try only got on the scoresheet for us once last season - but eight times for the opposition! It's amazing how much stronger our scrum has become over the summer, especially given that Montanella and Ion were deemed surplus to requirements at their former clubs, while Bristow - like Greg Bateman last year - has stepped-up from Level Five with Dorking.
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