Exeter power past Gloucester but must wait on Stuart Hogg injury update | Sport

The Premiership’s runaway leaders Exeter have effectively booked a home play-off semi-final but an injury to their Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg was a timely reminder nothing can yet be guaranteed. Nor was this a typically energetic and efficient Chiefs display, their five-try win masking a particularly lacklustre first-half effort.

The Premiership leaders partially made up for it after the interval, ending up with a bonus point which makes it all but impossible for them to finish outside the top two. For all the close‑range potency of Luke Cowan‑Dickie, Sam Simmonds and Jonny Hill, however, they will need to be far sharper if they plan to prosper in higher-profile games against quality opposition next month.

Bath 40-15 Worcester

Bath rested many of their big names yet still ran in six tries against Worcester to keep up the pressure on the top four. They now sit just a point behind Wasps before Sunday’s visit to second-placed Sale.

Billy Searle latched on to a wayward pass from Jack Walker to put Warriors ahead, but Tom Ellis finished a flowing move for the hosts before Elliott Stooke (pictured) heaved over the line from a five-metre scrum. Samoa wing Ed Fidow got the visitors back in it, but an injury to skipper Will Butler proved decisive. 

Walker atoned for his early error before Tom de Glanville added another try as Bath pulled away before half-time. In the second half, Stooke grabbed his second on the blindside of a ruck before Josh Matavesi crashed through two defenders to complete the scoring.

Sale 24-17 Saracens

Sale recorded their fourth straight victory, holding on after running in three first-half tries. Hooker Curtis Langon set up lock Matt Postlethwaite was driven over for the opener, but an error from the restart allowed Rotimi Segun to level the scores.

The hosts had the better of the scrum, winning three successive penalties before Valery Morozov was driven over for Sale’s second.Full-back Simon Hammersley added a third on 26 minutes to make the half-time score 21-7. Segun got another after the break but not before Will du Preez kicked a penalty to give Steve Diamond’s side breathing room.

London Irish 15-38 Harlequins

Marcus Smith scored 16 points as Harlequins beat their temporary tenants to all but seal at Champions Cup spot. Their bonus-point victory saw them rise to sixth in the table with a top-eight finish almost certain.

In addition to Smith’s two scores, Scott Baldwin, Cadan Murley and Scott Steele scored one apiece. There was also a penalty-try award, with Smith adding three conversions. Dan Norton and Ben Donnell went over for Irish, but it was not enough to avoid their sixth loss since the restart.


Photograph: Patrick Khachfe/Rex Features

The sight of Hogg limping gingerly out of the fray toward the end of the third quarter was another concern for Exeter’s coaching staff with the European Champions Cup quarter-final against Northampton next week looming. The flying Scotsman will be assessed over the next 24 hours with the forwards coach, Rob Hunter, insisting he had been withdrawn as a precaution: “We are being fairly cautious. We won’t take any risks and will see where he is at.”

While Exeter can still subdue the majority of sides purely through brute force, this was one of those days which raised rather more questions than it answered. A callow Gloucester side, with their combative Australian flanker Jordy Reid to the fore, proved far more competitive than many expected but Hunter did not dispute that the Chiefs appeared stuck on uninspired autopilot at times. “We weren’t brilliant and it proved we are human. It’s a good reminder for us. Everyone is talking about the league being a procession but it is not that simple. There will be a lot of teams who will be happy to knock us over.”

The first 40 minutes was comfortably the hosts’ poorest half of rugby since the league’s resumption, with the energy recently shown by the squad’s supposed lesser lights at Bristol and Northampton conspicuously absent. Jack Nowell is still feeling his way back to full fitness on the wing and his team’s collective snap and crackle was rather more evident in the warm-up than the actual contest.

Exeter celebrate Jonny Hill’s try.



Exeter celebrate Jonny Hill’s try. Photograph: Rogan/JMP/Shutterstock

At least the impending nationwide ban on gatherings of more than six people does not yet apply to close-range driven mauls. For all Exeter’s huffing and puffing elsewhere there is no stopping Cowan-Dickie and Simmonds close to the line and when Hill added a third try on the stroke of half-time, with Charlie Beckett also dispatched to the sin-bin, the audible disquiet amongst the home coaches was slightly reduced.

There were more encouraging signs shortly after the restart when Hogg made good ground down the right and quicker ball helped create space on the other side of the field for Dave Ewers to send Ian Whitten over. A fifth try for Jack Maunder, courtesy of an excellent reflex catch by the scrum-half close to the line, made it 33-8 but the final quarter was all about the visitors, the experienced Matt Banahan helping himself to a second try and the flanker Josh Gray completing a fine kick-and-chase score in the right corner.

It could not stop Exeter completing a first home-and-away league double over Gloucester in a decade of trying but Rob Baxter, as he prepares to juggle his resources for Sunday’s trip to Saracens and the subsequent Saints cup tie, will be hoping the real Chiefs re-emerge again soon.


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