Premiership semi-final: Exeter Chiefs 34-23 Wasps

By Brent PilnickBBC Sport at Sandy Park
Dave Ewers celebrates
Flanker Dave Ewers celebrates scoring Exeter's third try against Wasps
Exeter (20) 34
Tries: Whitten, Penalty 2, Ewers Con: Steenson 4 Pen: Steenson 2
Wasps (14) 23
Tries: Festuccia, Robson Con: Gopperth 2 Pen: Gopperth 3

Exeter Chiefs reached the Premiership final for the first time in their history after a tense win over Wasps.

A see-saw first half saw the lead change hands four times as Carlo Festuccia's close-range score for Wasps was cancelled out by Ian Whitten's try.

Dan Robson restored Wasps' lead but a penalty try late in the half gave Exeter a 20-14 lead at the break.

Dave Ewers went over for the Chiefs soon after the restart before a late penalty try sent them to Twickenham.

That last-minute score sealed the biggest win in the club's history and set up a meeting with reigning Premiership and European champion Saracens.

Thrilling first half

Dan Robson scores
Scrum-half Dan Robson briefly gave Wasps the lead for the final time

Chiefs started and ended the first period strongly. Wasps failed to have any touch of note in the first 12 minutes as Gareth Steenson sent over two Exeter penalties.

But with their first real attack of the game, Italy international hooker Festuccia was forced over by the visiting pack, with the Television Match Official giving the try the nod.

Exeter had a try ruled out three minutes later when Jack Nowell stepped into touch, but did not have to wait long for their score as Whitten went over after a quick break from the England winger.

But Wasps hit back again as Robson darted through the Exeter defence from five metres out.

Don Armand had another try chalked off for a knock on by Nowell as Exeter sought another quick response, but they were rewarded when sustained pressure led to referee Greg Garner awarding the Chiefs a penalty try and Festuccia was sent to the sin-bin.

Exeter hold firm

Despite being down to 14 men it was Wasps who started brighter after the break as Jimmy Gopperth kicked a penalty.

But Exeter got back into their rhythm two minutes later as Ewers picked up from a ruck two metres out and went over for what proved to be the decisive try.

Exeter's defence held firm as Wasps tried to find a way through, but their impressive back line of Charles Piutau, Elliot Daly, Christian Wade and Frank Halai failed to make a decisive break.

And, unlike in their Champions Cup quarter-final when Wasps scored a late try, it was the Chiefs who forced a score to put the result beyond doubt when Garner awarded them a second penalty try in the final minute after more pressure.

The rise of the Chiefs

Exeter celebrate
Exeter have reached the Premiership final in the first year they have qualified for the semi-finals

A decade ago Exeter finished sixth in the old National Division One, playing clubs including Otley, Pertemps Bees and Newbury.

Now they will face European Champions Cup winners Saracens for the chance to be crowned the champions of England.

It has been a meteoric rise for a club that has been guided by chief executive Tony Rowe and, from 2009, a coaching team under Rob Baxter that led Exeter into the top flight just a year later by beating Bristol in the first-ever Championship play-off final.

Each year the club has made steady improvements - qualifying for the Heineken Cup in 2012, winning their first trophy in 143 years in 2014 with victory in the LV= Cup and making their first European Champions Cup quarter-final this season.

But now, just six years after first breaking into the Premiership, Exeter have the chance to win it.

What the coaches said

Exeter head coach Rob Baxter: "It feels very good. It was a hell of a game, neither team really got away from each other for most of the game, but I think we showed enough qualities over the course of the 80 minutes to deserve the win.

"The lads who played today have made a name for themselves.

"They're a little bit further up the ladder than they were before, the club's a little bit further up the ladder and that's because we've been really looking after each other and caring about things.

"The players are taking hold of the season now and they've got one more week to really take charge of this and really put in a big performance because ultimately we're not going to be judged on today. Now that we've won this game, in a week's time we're going to be judged on a different performance and we've got to make sure we're happy with how we get judged."

Wasps director of rugby Dai Young: "I don't think there was much in it. We had a couple of opportunities in the second half where we could have really turned the screw.

"We knew they were a good team and I think they proved that today. They were a little bit more clinical when they did have the opportunities, but there wasn't much in it.

"No complaints. The two teams in the final have been the first and second-best teams throughout the year so it's a great final really."

Exeter Chiefs: Dollman; Nowell, Slade, Whitten, Woodburn; Steenson (capt), Chudley; Moon, Cowan-Dickie, Williams, Lees, Parling, Ewers, Salvi, Armand.

Replacements: Yeandle, Hepburn, Francis, Atkins, Waldrom, Lewis, Hill, Short.

Wasps: C. Piutau; Wade, Daly, S. Piutau, Halai; Gopperth, Robson; Mullan, Festuccia, Cooper-Woolley, Launchbury, Davies, Haskell (capt), Smith, Hughes.

Replacements: Johnson, McIntyre, Cittadini, Rowlands, Jones, Simpson, Jackson, Miller.

Sin-bin: Festuccia (39)

Referee: Greg Garner (RFU)

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