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Exeter make light work of Harlequins to set up final-day shot at semi-finals
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Exeter make light work of Harlequins to set up final-day shot at semi-finals

The playoff equation will not be entirely sorted until next weekend but Exeter are launching a furious late surge to reach the top four. The Chiefs needed to win here with a bonus point and send Quins home with as little as possible and a storming second-half display in the Devon sunshine duly saw them prolong their semi-final hopes into the final round.

Breathless entertainment is becoming the Premiership’s stock in trade and here was another vibrant example. Exeter’s back row were again conspicuously forceful, with Ethan Roots and Greg Fisilau both excellent, and the Chiefs – who won the second-half 37-5 – also had the thrillingly dynamic Immanuel Feyi-Waboso who added two more tries and several big linebreaks to his increasingly striking portfolio.

There was also a brace of tries for the fly-half Harvey Skinner against a Harlequins side forced to deploy Marcus Smith at full-back for almost an hour and clearly still recovering from their gallant Champions Cup semi-final loss in Toulouse last Sunday. The big question was always going to be how much collective energy they had left and they were running on empty by the end.

The Quins’ head coach Danny Wilson was less than thrilled, suggesting his team had “collapsed defensively” after the interval but this was also new model Exeter at their best. The final weekend calculations were tweaked slightly by a late Louis Lynagh try but the Chiefs should now make the last four if they beat Leicester with a bonus point and Sale lose to Saracens.

Rob Baxter, Exeter’s director of rugby, freely admits he did not expect his young side to be challengers this season but they now have some genuine momentum, despite a painful-looking knee injury for their experienced hooker Jack Yeandle. Quins, meanwhile, must now beat Bristol and pray results elsewhere go their way.

That scenario had seemed a distant prospect when Smith threw a lovely dummy and scored a scintillating 35-metre solo try inside the first two minutes. It set the tone for a game laden with positive intent on a glorious afternoon. Exeter also looked confident with ball in hand, without initially taking their chances, before another purposeful series of attacks ended with Henry Slade scoring in the left corner.

Quins’ ability to strike from anywhere, however, gave the hosts little chance to relax and soon enough, a neat pass from Jarrod Evans put Tyrone Green over for his side’s second try. Evans was on for the injured Cadan Murley, causing a reshuffle which saw Smith shifted to his occasional England role as a full-back. It is not always the ideal place for his singular talents and an ill-fated foray upfield resulted only in him being collared and the ball falling to Feyi-Waboso who gleefully accepted the unexpected gift.

By now the wheel of fortune was rotating madly. A rampaging Alex Dombrandt brushed aside Tom Cairns to score before, on the brink of half-time, Feyi-Waboso launched another thrilling long-range attack which, after a multi-pronged Chiefs assault, ended with full-back Dan John diving over to bring Exeter back on level terms.

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It was the Chiefs, though, who raised their game in the second half, going ahead within two minutes of the restart and securing a crucial try bonus point thanks to a rolling Skinner. When the fly-half then thundered up to prompt a significant Smith knock-on the momentum appeared to be firmly with the home team, only for a crucial charge-down from Stephan Lewies and a subsequent yellow card for Jacques Vermeulen to briefly change the picture again.

It proved only a temporary blip, three penalties from the immaculate boot of Slade stretching the lead before Feyi-Waboso, with the try of the game, Skinner and the skipper Dafydd Jenkins propelled their team clear. This was also a last chance for the home fans to salute some departing older favourites in the shape of the soon-to-leave Gareth Steenson, Alec Hepburn and Ollie Devoto. They come and they go in professional sport but out west they develop closer bonds than most with their local heroes. Their talented successors still have some high-achieving boots to fill.

Source: theguardian.com