Henry Slade hit a dramatic penalty to clinch a victory for Exeter with the last kick of the game, capping a dramatic comeback for the Chiefs after they trailed Gloucester by nine points with just a few minutes to go at Sandy Park.
The visitors were very good value for their two league points in defeat, only taking the lead for the first time in the match with 12 minutes left on the clock before Seb Atkinson extended that advantage just moments later.
However, Slade led an impassioned team talk under the posts and his side repaid the faith when Stu Townsend leapt over a ruck to score and give his centre a straightforward conversion, cutting the lead to two.
It had been an incredibly tight West Country derby throughout, but there was one final twist in the tale when Harry Elrington was penalised for not rolling away and Slade showed nerves of steel to clinch the win.
Exeter only ever held a maximum lead of seven points over the game but looked in control of the contest for well over an hour through tries from Rusi Tuima and young captain Dafydd Jenkins.
However, Gloucester stayed in touch thanks to Jack Clement and Ollie Thorley, before landing a sucker-punch brace late-on. First, Rees-Zammit beat three defending Chiefs to give his side the lead, and Atkinson’s follow-up six minutes later looked like it might’ve sealed the deal.
That was until the sensational Slade had his final intervention and sent Sandy Park ballistic.
Talking point: Gloucester resurgence not quite enough
Gloucester captain Lewis Ludlow claimed he had sleepless nights after their heavy 45-27 defeat to Bath, and his side were noticeably more physical at Sandy Park
However, that was tempered by lethargy in the backs for most of the first-half, George Barton struggling to unlock the obvious star power outside in the face of a smothering Exeter blitz.
In contrast, Henry Slade and Joe Hawkins combined magically with Harvey Skinner to constantly switch the Chiefs’ point of attack and keep the visiting defence guessing – without Albert Tuisue for much of the game after a worrying injury.
Exeter had 96% territory in the first ten minutes before Tuima finally crashed over, and Clement’s superbly orchestrated try was the one bright spark for the Cherry and Whites with the Chiefs frustrated to only score 12 in the first period.
It looked like Gloucester would make them pay, they finally got their act together at the death and Rees-Zammit, Thorley and Santiago Carreras is one back-three that you really don’t want to click against you.
Carreras often slipped into first or second receiver but actually looked more effective out wide later in the game setting Thorley free to take the lead for the visitors.
However, a defeat would’ve been harsh on Exeter after they’d controlled so much of the game with their young forwards again bringing bags of dynamism, complemented by some centre steel.
Player of the match: Joe Hawkins
If this could go a position group then Exeter’s centres would be richly deserving, they kept up the pressure on Gloucester’s defence for most of the game and it was Hawkins’ turnover that helped spark the Chiefs’ comeback.
Aged just 21, the Welsh wizard has a bright future ahead of him looking as comfortable unlocking a defensive line as leading a blitz, and his support at inside-centre allows Harvey Skinner to shine even brighter at fly-half too.
On a day where the Exeter back-three weren’t quite firing on all cylinders, Hawkins helped ensure that didn’t cost them the win.
EXETER CHIEFS: Tommy Wyatt 6, Immanuel Feyi-Waboso 5, Henry Slade 8, Joe Hawkins 8, Ben Hammersley 7, Harvey Skinner 7, Tom Cairns 6, Scott Sio 6, Jack Yeandle 7, Ehren Painter 7, Rusi Tuima 7, Dafydd Jenkins 8, Ethan Roots 6, Jacques Vermeulen 7, Aidon Davis 6
Replacements: Dan Frost 4, Nika Abuladze 7, Josh Iosefa-Scott 6, Lewis Pearson 7, Ross Vintcent 6, Stu Townsend 7, Will Haydon-Wood 6, Olly Woodburn 6
GLOUCESTER: Santiago Carreras 7, Louis Rees-Zammit 8, Chris Harris 6, Seb Atkinson 7, Ollie Thorley 6, George Barton 7, Micky Young 6, Mayco Vivas 6, George McGuigan 7, Fraser Balmain 7, Freddie Clarke 6, Matias Alemanno 6, Albert Tuisue 7, Lewis Ludlow 7, Jack Clement 8
Replacements: Santiago Socino 7, Harry Elrington 6, Kirill Gotovtsev 6, Freddie Thomas 7, Stephen Varney 7
That didn’t take long either, Albert Tuisue hit Rusi Tuima, but Jack Clement coming in upright found head-to-head contact with the Chiefs lock and will spend the next two minutes on the sidelines.
TRY! EXETER 7-0 GLOUCESTER
It was a heroic stand from Gloucester, but after 10 minutes the damn bursts. Tom Cairns attempted to go himself from the line and just short, Tuima can’t be stopped on the next phase though and crashes over to open the scoring. Slade’s conversion is good too.
Clement’s yellow card was for head contact with Tuima, but the shoe’s on the other foot here with the TMO sensing foul play. It’s for head-to-head contact on McGuigan, who was latching onto his Gloucester teammate, and Tuima’s off for ten.
TRY! EXETER 7-7 GLOUCESTER
They weren’t lethargic there! Bustling carry from Rees-Zammit through Skinner sets up front-foot ball, before Harris’ crash-ball line buys the attention of Ethan Roots and allows Clement to burst over virtually untouched. Barton adds the simple extras too.
TRY! EXETER 12-7 GLOUCESTER
Skinner had just butchered a four-on-one, but makes up for it there, dummying left then sending Slade through a bus-sized hole on his right. Slade had options on both sides and picks Jenkins who ran a great support line and touches down. Slade’s conversion veers wide right though.
TRY! EXETER 12-12 GLOUCESTER
Everything about that attack was better from Gloucester. Thorley makes a bustling carry from the lineout and Gloucester continue the momentum before swinging back left, Atkinson finds a glorious tip-on to Carreras and Thorley takes the spoils. Barton’s conversion clangs against the upright though and we’re all square.
TRY! EXETER 15-19 GLOUCESTER
Rob Baxter predicted someone needed to take control of the game, and Rees-Zammit might’ve just done it. The wind steps up first-reciever, pirouettes away from Townsend then steps hard off his right to evade two more Chiefs and scores. Barton’’s extras are inch-perfect too.
TRY! EXETER 15-24 GLOUCESTER
Exeter never got organised in defence and Alemanno nearly crashed over combining brilliantly with Socino. But that stop just delays the inevtiable, Seb Atkinson dummies from the 9 position and leaps over, though Barton’s conversion is wide.
TRY! EXETER 22-24 GLOUCESTER
Stu Townsend’s been heavily involved for better and worse since entering the fray, this time he dives acrobatically over the ruck and touches down, conversion to come… And it’s GOOD!!!
They’ve got it over halfway, Sandy Park is electric… and Elrington gives away the penalty at the meeting of the ten and 15 metres lines on the left. Can Slade cap a remarkable comeback? HE CAN!
This was a record-extending 73rd Premiership game for Lewis Ludlow as Gloucester captain.
Gloucester’s last win at Sandy Park was way back in March 2014. The wait goes on…