Midway through the first half of this entertaining game, there was every prospect of an upset to Exeter University’s march to promotion. The Chiefs had built up a 17-5 lead, beating the students at their own game of fast, open rugby. By halftime, the result was still in the balance but, after the break, the University’s resiliance and superior fitness enabled them to run out comfortable winners.


Despite a heavy pitch, made more treacherous by showery rain, both sides stuck to their plan to play open rugby. Mistakes were inevitable and, in the end, the students made fewer and ultimately exposed the Chiefs defensive frailties in the wide channels.


The University started strongly, with play confined to the Sidmouth half for the opening ten minutes. They eventually took the lead, when the tight head prop forced his way over from close range after a quick tap penalty move. The try was unconverted.


For the next ten minutes, the Chiefs dominated play to build up a useful lead. When Luke Wells-Burr made a break on the blindside of a ruck on halfway, he found Sam Meadham in support to run in near the posts for Tom Whelan to add the conversion.


Another try soon followed after the ball had been worked through several phases. With the defence stretched, Tom Whelan dummied his way through a gap to run in and convert his own try.


A Whelan penalty made the score 17-5 midway through the half.


Slack defence gifted the students two tries, enabling them to draw level on the half hour. A break in the centre opened the Sidmouth defence but there was plenty of cover when the number eight received the ball just outside the 22. Nobody committed to the tackle and he strolled through to touch down a try converted by the fly half.


Moments later, a couple of missed tackles on the right winger enabled him to embark on a 70 metre sprint to the line. The try was unconverted.


With two minutes to go in the half, the students secured a bonus point, when the left winger finished off an excellent handling move. The fly half converted from the touchline.


In injury time, Tom Whelan kicked a penalty to keep his side in touch at 20-24 at the break.


From the restart kick, the University gave a masterclass in ball retention, which earned them two more tries. Both were scored on the blindside of rucks near the Sidmouth line after the defence had been stretched. The number seven scored the first and the left winger went over for his second. Neither was converted.


A third Tom Whelan penalty closed the gap to eleven points to give the Chiefs hope of salvaging something from the game. However, the students superior fitness kept them in command in the closing stages.


The fly half kicked a penalty before two late tries sealed a comfortable victory and kept their promotion drive on track. The full back finished off a slick handling move before the left winger completed his hattrick with a similar effort.