Harlequins remain in contention for a place in this season’s Aviva Premiership play-offs after securing a 30-29 victory over Exeter at Sandy Park which ended the Chiefs’ hopes of a European play-off.
Exeter head coach Rob Baxter had asked to see some pride restored within the ranks with a passionate display in the club’s penultimate league game of the season and he got just that as they led 16-5 at the break.
Chiefs fly-half Gareth Steenson had kicked three penalties and converted scrum-half Dave Lewis’ 15th-minute try with Harlequins only response coming through a try from wing Ugo Monye.
The home side extended their lead when Steenson converted their second try from wing Matt Jess and added two penalties only for Quins to storm back thanks to tries from Nick Evans, Danny Care and Tom Guest with two conversions and two penalties added by Evans.
Harlequins knew that they needed maximum points from their final two matches to take the final play-off place away from Bath, whom they host on Saturday in the final match of the regular season.
The visitors originally planned to make three changes from the side knocked out of the Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final by Northampton a week ago but then England full-back Mike Brown and wing Sam Smith pulled out.
They were replaced by Ollie Lindsay-Hague and Monye, who was making his first appearance since March due to injury.
Exeter were on the scoreboard first, Steenson landing his opening penalty when the visitors were penalised 41 metres out after an attempted interception.
When the Chiefs had another kickable opportunity they opted to kick for the corner. They set up a driving maul before releasing the ball to Lewis who found a gap and leapt over the line close to the posts.
Steenson converted, but.Quins replied almost immediately as Monye broke down the right touchline and evaded Steenson to score in the corner.
Evans’ conversion attempt went across the face of the posts but Steenson stretched the Chiefs’ lead with another 40-metre penalty from in front of the posts.
A turnover ball allowed Steenson to thump the ball downfield but Monye just won the chase, only to be penalised for failing to release. Steenson landed another three points to give the Chiefs a 16-5 half time lead.
Quins started the second period strongly but Jess mounted a counter-attack to release Ian Whitten. The outside centre continued the move, sold a dummy and passed back inside for Jess to score under the posts.
Steenson added the extras but, just as in the first half, Quins’ response was immediate with a solo try from Evans which he duly converted. Chiefs then had lock Damian Welch sent to the sin-bin and Evans landed the penalty.
As the hour mark approached Evans landed another three points to reduce the arrears to five points. T he TMO was again called into action as the Chiefs were awarded a 22-metre penalty as prop Joe Marler took replacement scrum-half Hayden Thomas off the ball, and Steenson slotted another three points.
Despite Exeter being back to full strength Quins went in search of two more tries as number eight Nick Easter put scrum-half Care clear on a 20-metre dash to the line. Evans’ conversion reduced the arrears to one point.
Steenson added another 20-metre penalty with seven minutes remaining but Quins claimed their bonus point from a short line-out, with replacement back row Guest touching down to give the visitors a one-point lead and victory.
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