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Chiefs achieve landmark with consecutive Heineken Cup victories over Scarlets

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 17, 2012

Exeter Chiefs centre  Ian Whitten makes the crucial  breakthrough for the home side's first try following fine build-up work from wing Jack Nowell  picture: Mat Mingo/Pinnacle

Exeter Chiefs centre Ian Whitten makes the crucial breakthrough for the home side's first try following fine build-up work from wing Jack Nowell picture: Mat Mingo/Pinnacle

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It was another landmark day at Sandy Park as Exeter Chiefs achieved their first-ever Heineken Cup win on home soil.

The performance and the outcome were the culmination of all the progress and hard work done since they moved from the County Ground in the summer of 2006.

Chiefs' forward momentum has rarely slowed, particularly since their promotion to the Aviva Premiership in 2010. They have now reached a level where back-to-back wins in Europe's biggest competition is a reality.

One of the key components of their rapid progress has been their ability to learn hard lessons fast and grow stronger.

And it was this strength of character and streetwise edge that helped them to a fully deserved victory over Scarlets this weekend – their second over the Welsh RaboDirect Pro 12 side in as many weeks.

Tries from Ian Whitten, Simon Alcott and skipper James Scaysbrook made sure of the win, in a game that was close until the final few minutes. Indeed, Scarlets' persistence and refusal to accept defeat deserves equal praise.

They were certainly hit with a strong opening salvo from the Chiefs when the match got under way.

The home side pushed Scarlets back straight from Steenson's kick-off and forced a penalty within a minute for offside.

And although the Exeter fly-half missed his kick for goal, it was forgotten by the third minute when a superb midfield break from Cornishman Jack Nowell cut straight through the Scarlets' defence.

Once in the 22, he timed his pass to Whitten perfectly and the centre dived over under the posts. This time Steenson made no mistake, with the simple conversion.

The Welsh side were down to 14 men in the sixth minute after a high tackle on Chiefs flanker Tom Johnson, who chased and collected Steenson's expertly weighted chip over the Scarlets' defensive line on the halfway line.

Steenson kicked the resulting penalty at goal and extended his side's lead to ten points. That excellent start was punctuated by a penalty for Scarlets, kicked the through the posts by Aled Thomas.

Chiefs applied pressure after a deep kick from Phil Dollman, who was playing full-back instead of occupying his normal position at centre.

Scarlets were prevented from clearing the danger. Johnson charged down an attempted clearance kick from Thomas and hooker Alcott applied the finish with Steenson converting.

Thomas' troubles continued when he missed a penalty kick at goal three minutes later.

But as the first half reached its midpoint, it was Chiefs' turn to play with 14 when lock James Hanks was sent to the bin for an off-the-ball swing at Scarlets skipper Jon Davies.

The disruption contributed to Chiefs conceding a penalty soon after, with Thomas reducing the deficit by three points. It could have been more.

Scarlets had men over on the left during one surge forward but they were bundled into touch by the Chiefs' scrambled defence.

The ensuing line-out was also faulty and Steenson was able to make excellent ground with his clearance.

But even with Chiefs back up to 15, they were unable to stop the growing pressure from the visitors.

A series of big defensive hits from the home side merely delayed the inevitable as hooker Ken Owen crashed over to the left of the posts with Thomas adding the conversion.

The flow was stemmed to an extent just before half-time when Steenson kicked his second penalty of the match after a Chiefs maul was pulled down.

However, it was a tough start to the second half for Chiefs. They lost Johnson to injury in the opening exchanges and conceded a try before his replacement, Ben White, made it on to the field.

Centre Scott Williams was the try scorer for Scarlets with Thomas levelling the scores with his conversion.

In previous years, such a comeback from the opposition might have caused self-doubt to overwhelm them.

This is, after all, still their first season of Heineken Cup rugby. They could have been forgiven had they not responded the way they did but their hardened resolve saw them push forward again.

Chiefs thought they had retaken the lead five minutes before the hour mark with centre Sireli Naqelevuki threatening to go over under the posts.

The try was ruled out with Scarlets flanker George Earle bravely preventing the touchdown.

Unperturbed, they pushed on again and Steenson nudged them three points ahead with a penalty, but his attempt to extending the lead to six points from just inside the Scarlets' half fell just short.

A tense finish followed with both sides still believing victory was possible.

The home nerves were only settled when Scaysbrook crashed over between the posts with Steenson adding the conversion, establishing a ten-point lead with less than a minute left on the clock.

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