Twickenham Stadium or “HQ” as it is affectionately known was host to final of gladiatorial delights, two teams with their own romantic backstories took to the field in a humdinger of a match. Wasps had not having been in a final for nine years faced administration and liquidation in between that period, before relocating to Coventry were back in the big time with an exciting brand of rugby. Exeter back in the final once again and hoping to exorcise the loss to Saracens the year before. Would they realise their dream and land the premiership crown? The last time these two teams met in February it ended in an enthralling draw making it difficult to predict, Match Referee JP Doyle’s last premiership final ended in a stalemate and had extra time. Ultimately it would be left to Gareth Steenson boot to settle the grand showdown.
A minutes silence was observed by all in attendance for the victims of the Manchester attack, Wasps had the bright start to the game as they showed their silky skills through their backline albeit missing Kurtley Beale through a leg injury. Director of Rugby Dai Young commented before the match saying “when Kurtley has been fit to play he has lit up the premiership and undoubtedly would have sizzled today” However it would be Wasps who would be penalised of infringing at the scrum, Exeter kicking for touch to relieve the pressure. More of the same would ensure as in the thirteenth minute Exeter executed a text book try from probably countless hours of video analysis, as they won a lineout which has been a weakness of Wasps all season. Exeter’s hooker Cowan-Dickie drew Wasp’s Thomas Young and created a gap for Jack Nowell to slice through and score, Captain Steenson converting to make it 7-0. Nathan Hughes for Wasps was having a huge influence had to come off to have a head injury concern addressed but not until he had set up a penalty for his team that brought the scores to 7-3. The error count from both sides was mounting as they tussled for supremacy, the dominant Exeter scrum would however induce a penalty that would allow them to kick for a lineout downfield.
The ferocious breakdown contest was providing quite a challenge for the referee as he incorrectly awarded a scrum to Exeter when it should have been a penalty to Wasps as Taylor brilliantly brought down Chief’s Devoto and was back on his feet and have his hands on the ball. Exeter took full advantage and orchestrated an overs play spreading the ball wide, playing a loop pass behind the dummy runner enabling Devoto to straighten and charge through the gap before taking the ball into contact, offloading out of the back of his hand to Dollman who uses his physicality to reach for the line. Again, Steenson converted making it 14-3. Anyone would be a fool in thinking that a whitewash was in store as Wasps mounted a resistance with wave after wave attacks that would ultimately pay dividends on the stroke of halftime,as Danny Cipriani popped a ball back into Taylor who surged through before passing to Robson who fed Kiwi Jimmy Gopperth for a simple run in.Gopperth adds the extras 14-10 to Exeter with oranges to come.
The second half kicked off with Exeter trying to make the hard yards but an excellent Nathan Hughes for Wasps had other ideas. He tackled Gareth Steenson wrestling the ball from him and then trundling through Townsend taking five defenders to haul him down. This allowed the ball to be spread wide to top try scorer Christian Wade who took advantage of a stricken Phil Dollman by kicking the ball downfield to chase, as ever the unpredictable bounce of the rugby ball was unkind to him but not to his teammate Daly as he scored. Jimmy Gopperth converting and Wasps were in the lead for the first time 17-14. Sensing blood Wasp’s Willie Le Roux nearly pulled off an amazing try only for him and Bassett running out of room. Exeter Chiefs Head Coach Rob Baxter probably sensing dejavu changed his entire front row in the 49th minute, it seemed to have the desired effect as end to end rugby forced Wasps to employ a high risk strategy attacking deep from their try line. The Wasp’s backline created an intricate play that freed up Gopperth, to jink his way beyond the halfway line earning a penalty which he gleefully converted stretching their lead by six points. Momentum would swing back to Exeter but they failed to capitalise on good field position, fortunately they would get points on the board playing up the middle through the “big men”, Waldrom, Parling and Armand. Parling losing the ball in the tackle… but it had been done illegally giving Exeter a penalty. Steenson converted the penalty and there were now three points behind. Drama would ensure as both sides searched for the killer blow, Wasp’s front five suffering from the pressure of the Chiefs. The noise levels within the stadium were of epic proportions as both sets of supporters will their team to win. In the 79th minute with Wasps looking to have won the game, Exeter once again produced their last minute heroics of last week as they built an attacking platform earning a penalty right in front of the posts and a guaranteed three points after the impressive Hughes failed to heed the referees call to leave the ball. Scores tied at 20 apiece and the game went into extra time.
The first half of extra time was scoreless, though Exeter looked the fresher side and with just minutes remaining they were denied a try by the television match official after an impressive 25 phase play in a pulsating match. It would take two minutes from the end of the second period of extra time that allowed Exeter captain Steenson to hold his nerve and land the winning penalty, crushing the valiant Wasps and vanquishing the memories of last year’s Final and realising their dream.