Gloucester 30 - 19 Exeter: Laidlaw heads to final
Gloucester - 30
Exeter Chiefs - 19
Referee: J Lacey (Ireland)
Gloucester dominated throughout and scored tries through Bill Meakes, Tom Savage and Jonny May with Scotland scrum-half Greig Laidlaw kicking two penalties and three conversions. James Hook added a long-distance penalty.
For Exeter, Henry Slade kicked four penalties with Gareth Steenson adding the conversion to replacement Elvis Taione’s late try.
“It was a complete performance from the first minute to the last,” said Humphreys.
“We’ve been criticised throughout the season for not doing that and we knew if we were to beat Exeter we had to be on the very top of our game.
“We didn’t panic, our set piece was strong and we defended well when they came back at us as I knew they would. Our league position is not an accurate reflection of our season as we are a better team than that.”
Gloucester now face Edinburgh in the Challenge Cup on 1 May at the Stoop, and Humphreys acknowledged that Alan Solomons’ side will present a difficult challenge. “Edinburgh were very impressive last night in defeating the Dragons,” he added. “It’s the best I’ve seen them play all season.
“To be in the final is massive for both clubs and gives us an opportunity to take something out of our season.”
Gloucester started strongly by retaining possession for the first three minutes as they took the play from within their own 22 to their opponents’ 22, but it was Exeter who nearly opened the scoring.
From a maul deep in the Chiefs’ half, Thomas Waldrom burst away to combine with Phil Dollman as Exeter made 75 metres before Waldrom was hauled down by Billy Twelvetrees narrowly short of the try-line.
After 17 minutes, Gloucester gained their reward for their pressure when Laidlaw put them ahead with a penalty.
Three minutes later, Exeter had their first chance for points and Slade made no mistake by firing over a long-range penalty.
Twelvetrees tried to put his side back in front and, although his rushed drop-goal attempt went badly astray, it was still all Gloucester in the opening half-hour. Laidlaw and Moriarty combined neatly to stretch the Exeter defence; it held firm but it was certainly all hands to the pump as the hosts maintained their momentum.
Gloucester were not to be denied and on the half-hour scored the first try. A neat kick through by Hook saw Meakes collect and score for Laidlaw to convert before Hook kicked a penalty from inside his own half.
With the last kick of half, Slade kicked his second goal to leave Exeter trailing 13-6 at the interval.
Early in the second half, Slade kicked a further penalty to bring the Chiefs back in contention but Gloucester were soon back threatening the visitors’ line.
Richard Hibbard burst into the opposition 22 before Matt Kvesic and Hook brought them close to a second try, but Exeter managed to steal a vital turnover.
Laidlaw had a chance to extend the lead but his penalty attempt went narrowly wide before Slade succeeded with one for Exeter to leave them trailing by only one point at the end of the third quarter.
It was hard to believe Exeter were so close on the scoreboard, such was the home side’s territorial dominance, but eventually Gloucester made it count.
The home side declined two kickable penalties in favour of a driving line-out and were rewarded when Savage crashed over for Laidlaw to convert before the scrum-half added a penalty.
Exeter did not lie down and scored their first try through replacement Taione, but Gloucester had the final say when May saw an opportunity to race over to seal victory and set up that mouth-watering clash with Edinburgh at The Stoop.
Exeter coach Rob Baxter was disappointed with his side’s overall display.
“We underperformed and a few people have learned a few things on how to play in this fantastic environment,” he said.
“The set piece proved to be a big part of the game and they managed it better than we did. A lot of the scrums ended up on the floor, which was not the case in last week’s game against Northampton.”
However, Baxter was still upbeat as his team continue their battle to secure a play-off place in the concluding matches of the Premiership.
“We won’t be changing anything radically as a result of this defeat,” he said. “We are having an exciting season and there will be no need to pick the players up. We are at Wasps next Sunday, which gives us a long turnaround and it should be an excellent game on a fantastic ground.”