Harlequins 3 Exeter Chiefs 33
Heaven help the Premiership when Exeter start fielding a full-strength side.
The domestic and European champions had nine players absent through injury or international duty but still made it a brutal start to the new seasons for Quins at the Stoop.
It was perhaps credit to Paul Gustard’s men that they stayed vaguely within touching distance going into the final quarter, but in reality, the Chiefs’ control was comprehensive almost from start to finish.
The visitors won the try-count 5-0 and just as impressive as the tries they scored – three from lineout drives after penalties had been pinged into the corners – was the way they snuffed out the home side’s half-chances.
Moments after the awesome number eight Sam Simmonds had bagged his hat-trick try to secure the bonus point, the visitors could be heard cajoling each other with cries of: ‘Let’s not give them a try, lads.’
This was definitely a game where the uninitiated were made to understand what all the fuss is about when it comes to the Chiefs – the team which swept all before it last term.
For new Quins skipper Stephan Lewies, this was a chastening experience against a team who wrapped up their magnificent double just 27 days ago.
Quins did show promise early on, as the Chiefs found their bearings and Danny Care’s grubber kicks to the corners offered hope. Marcus Smith missed a kick at goal but landed a second to make it 3-0. But that was as good as it got.
The first of Symmonds’ tries quickly turned the tide and was a pearler – one you rarely associate with a number eight. He dashed home from 40 yards after a side-step and burst of speed which proved too much for the outpaced Nathan Earle.
His brother Joe converted and the Chiefs never seriously looked like relinquishing control after that, and even if it was still only 7-3 at the turn-around, no-one was fooled.
Dave Ewers scored the first of those driving mauls from a lineout set-piece and although Quins battled gamely, crossing the line for a touchdown which was ruled out, their attempts to get back into it lacked the sheer efficiency and menace of the champions.
When Smith chipped forward, Alex Dombrandt simply could not match Simmonds’ first-half burst of pace and the remorseless covering defence killed the opening before it could be exploited.
Simmonds bagged two more tries to underline Exeter’s superiority and substitute Stuart Townsend rubbed more salt in the wound at the death.
“We’re not quite there in terms of where we want to be, but we’re evolving,” Gustard said before kick-off. “It will be a great test of how far we have come in that regard, against the best.”
Maybe. But then again, maybe not. Quins must hope that Exeter are just a special case right now and perhaps ought not to be the definitive yardstick of the progress they are making.
Next up is a trip to Northampton Saints next Saturday and Gloucester the following weekend before the start of the Champions Cup campaign at Munster in mid-December.
Quins: Brown, Earle, Northmore, Esterhuizen, Murley, Smith, Care, Garcia Botta, Baldwin, Louw, Symons, Lewies, Lawday, Evans, Dombrandt.