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Vermeulen double inspires Exeter to emphatic victory against Gloucester
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Vermeulen double inspires Exeter to emphatic victory against Gloucester

A glance at the teamsheet suggested this might be a difficult afternoon for Gloucester, and so it proved. Exeter’s international contingent, led by the Wales captain, Dafydd Jenkins, and spearheaded by virtuoso displays from England’s Immanuel Feyi-Waboso and Henry Slade, maintained their playoff hopes with a bonus-point victory.

Slade kicked 13 points – a perfect six out of six – and contributed stylishly to a fluid attacking display from Rob Baxter’s side, who scored five tries. Jacques Vermeulen got two, one in each half, while Dan John and Olly Woodburn crossed before the break and Feyi-Waboso sealed the bonus point after it.

Exeter are seventh, four points behind Bristol in fourth, and they host fifth-placed Harlequins at Sandy Park in a couple of weeks before a final Premiership assignment away against Leicester. The attack is functioning exceptionally well but they will need to improve defensively to make the playoffs.

Jonny May – who revealed this week he will leave Kingsholm in the summer – likely for a move abroad – crossed for a try, along with Jack Clement and Arthur Clark, to give the Cherry and Whites hope. But they were largely outclassed.

Gloucester’s head coach, George Skivington, confirmed his selection had more than one eye on next Saturday’s European Challenge Cup semi-final against Benetton, and also revealed they were missing Santiago Carreras due to appendicitis, but he admitted the performance still came up short.

“I think they definitely beat us for intensity and that’s the bit I’m most disappointed about,” Skivington said. “Their need to win probably outdid us in the first half … But I’ve made the selections I have, I’ve trained the boys the way I have [in view of the Benetton match]. So I can’t moan too much.”

Exeter were dynamic from the start and Slade’s penalty capitalised on some early possession on five minutes. Feyi-Waboso threatened often, busting through tackles and tearing into space where it appeared. The medical student looked a class apart after his recent introduction to the Six Nations by Steve Borthwick, the England head coach.

It was Feyi-Waboso’s burst that created field position for Vermeulen, the openside, to bash over from short range after 14 minutes. Jenkins, in the captain’s armband, personified the visitors’ blend of silk and steel, his distribution often proving telling.

Gloucester found themselves in unfamiliar territory – the opposition 22 – just before the half-hour mark and Jake Morris offloaded to May for a simple finish. England’s past set against England’s future.

The evasiveness of Feyi-Waboso emerged again when a Jenkins pass gave him a glimpse of the line. He wriggled and reached for a try but lost it forward. No matter: Slade immediately ran a superb line around the corner on the left, Jenkins having fed the outside-centre, and Woodburn applied the finish.

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Morris narrowly failed to reduce Gloucester’s arrears when forced into touch in the corner straight after half-time – before Harvey ­Skinner, the impressive Exeter fly-half, ­produced a brilliant floating pass for Feyi-Waboso at the other end. He had a simple task to score and secure a bonus point.

Slade nailed a difficult fourth conversion to make it five out of five – international class counting again – but Skivington’s men were back in with a glimmer of hope when Clark’s chargedown allowed him to flop over. Baxter’s team re-established their dominance and finished the contest when Vermeulen powered over for his second on 59 minutes.

“They’re good players aren’t they?” Baxter said of the ­outstanding Feyi-Waboso and Slade. “When we give them a platform to be able to work from, they can show how ­exceptional they are.

“The fantastic thing was we got the ball up and moving, and when you get the ball up and moving and a defence shifting, someone like Manny is going to be lethal. He is a talent, isn’t he?”

Thankfully for Skivington they need not worry about relegation, but Baxter’s achievement with a new-look squad shows there is hard work ahead – starting with the European semi-final next weekend. Gloucester’s scrum-half, Stephen Varney, will welcome a clutch of his Azzurri teammates to his home ground. The faithful fans in the Shed will expect a closer contest.

Source: theguardian.com