Adam Thompstone made a dream debut as he celebrated his first start in The Stripes with a hat trick of tries. Toby Flood was 6/6 with the boot as he bagged a brace of hat tricks, one of conversions and one of penalties. Exeter bookended the game with a Mieres penalty and a Ben White try in the first and last minutes respectively. How the TMO took over 3 minutes to award Exeter’s try, which was clear from the first viewing, is anyone’s guess. It made no difference and just made sure the game ended with a whimper not a bang.
Tigers pack certainly responded from the whimperish performance last week with a bang as they bossed and they bullied a denuded pack of Chiefs. Thompson takes the headline, and Matt Smith the ESPN Man of the Match, but it was Cole, Crane and chums up front who harried and hassled the visitors and broke their resolve. Strong midfield carrying created a chasm in the Chiefs midfield, with 3rd choice prop Carl Rimmer split from his captain Tom Hayes, Toby Flood putting Flying Fijian Goneva through the hole on his inside left. Goneva carried through to the 22 where the ball was kept alive as Tigers made more ground. Coming right again through the hands of first Flood, then that man Goneva again gave Waldrom the outside break as he fed Thompstone who raced past the hapless Rimmer to the corner. Flood landed the touchline conversion.
3 penalties rounded off the half time score; the last after Tigers had already kicked to touch, the referee bizarrely making Tigers then kick for goal after touch had been found. It was probably a blessing in disguise though as Tigers extended their league to 13 and helped to further snuff out the Chiefs faint hopes of a comeback.
The second of Tigers tries was part cock up part genius. The cock up was the Chiefs as scrum half Hayden Thomas fired a pass around Mieres’s ankles, Waldrom’s tackle forcing the knock on. Then the genius. Toby Flood took two touches, the first a stab to free the ball from Jason Shoemark’s grasp, the second mark from Flood’s shoe was a sublime dink with the outside of the right boot straight into Matt Smith’s waiting hands. He straightened and drew in two defenders before feeding Bowden on his outside who threw the scoring pass to last man Thompstone.
Tigers were pilling on the pressure now, Goneva ghosting through a gap, only to be pulled down 1 metre short. A pick and go looked on but Tigers dithered, then moved the ball left towards the posts where Tom Youngs powerful thrust was rebuffed before Niall Morris stepped one way then the other to free Mulipola for an easy run in. But no. Ignacio Mieres was powering across and managed to go high and disrupt the giant Samoan just enough for the ball to slither through his fingers as he tossed and turned in a vain attempt to ground the ball. It was butchery that Sweeny Todd would have been proud.
The third was not long in coming, however; smart work from Kitchener and Goveva at a ruck on half way turned the ball over and as Brett Deacon and Waldrom moved the ball towards the right touchline it eventually found its way to Matt Smith. Smartly noticing no covering player nor a full back was in place for the Chiefs Smith judiciously used the boot to grubber through, Thompstone pounced on the bouncing ball ahead of Matt Jess and duly claimed his hat trick try.
A cascade of replacements then followed as Sam Harrison and Toby Flood were replaced by Pat Phibbs and George Ford while Mulipola made way for another debutant Fraser Balmain in the front row. The replacements disrupted the team’s rhythm, with a 27 point lead and 3 tries on the board this was the time to throw caution to the wind but Phibbs was too careful and considered when a bit of balls out gusto was needed to counter attack from our own line. Ford created one moment of genius with a cross field kick, but slopping hands from Graeme Kitchener killed the attack and the chance of the bonus point. It was not Waldrom’s greatest pass but Kitchener merely flapped a single hand at it with Matt Smith waiting in behind. Claiming it, presuming no call from Smith, was not a bad idea but if that is the intention then claim it! With two hands!
Credit to Exeter as they never gave up and the attacking pressure they applied was the best form of defence stopping Tigers pushing for the extra point in that last 10 minutes. They gained their reward as the clock went to 0 when Ben White’s score was eventually given by the TMO. The referee only asked for the grounding to be checked so luckily for Exeter his offside position in the ruck was not dealt with. This is the second try Tigers have conceded this season when players in the ruck reach back and pick up the ball. Have referees forgotten the rules or are they bewitched by the “clever play”? If this is now allowed then Tigers need to cotton on as it completely removes the prospect of accidental offside (which is why it is outlawed of course).
Tigers will be pleased at how Dan Bowden helped shape the game in his first start, even if it is far to lateral for my tastes, showing Anthony Allen that he is no longer an automatic first choice in the 12 jersey. His kicking game was perhaps not utilised to its fullest but this was not the game for that. Niall Morris must now be the official understudy for Geordan Murphy, he was a close call as my Man of the Match as he was a constant weapon in attack and sure in defence. But my Man of the Match has got to be Flying Fijian winger Vereniki Goneva, his powerful jinking runs wreaked havoc and created the first try and the Mulipola no-try. It was his turnover that finished in the final try as well and that is a good example of why he is close to the complete winger.