Harlequins 14-12 Exeter: Tabai Matson admits Quins fortunate to edge Chiefs after red card

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  • Tabai Matson
    New Zealand rugby union footballer and coach
  • Marcus Smith
    English rugby union footballer (b. 1999)
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Harlequins were fortunate to beat Exeter at the Twickenham Stoop on Saturday, according to boss Tabai Matson.

The Chiefs suffered a 14-12 defeat in a repeat of last year’s Gallagher Premiership final having played the second-half a man down after a red card for Alec Hepburn.

It was then a slog in the pouring rain for Quins who squandered multiple openings with the score at 7-7 before Exeter broke through with a Jack Innard try on 65 minutes.

The stage was set for a defiant victory, but Andre Esterhuizen plundered a 79th-minute try set up by Marcus Smith, who then landed the winning conversion from the touchline.

“Exeter were gritty, you've got to give them credit,” Matson said. “Why do we do this for a living?! It is a bloody terrible job but it keeps you living!

“One thing I love about this team is they create enough opportunities to get the scoreboard going. We will review the terrible execution because there were probably four genuine chances to score against 14 men that we completely butchered.

“But you have got to tip your hat to Exeter - what a gritty group of men. They probably deserved a little bit more than that.”

Smith executed a pinpoint kick for Esterhuizen to grab and score, dotting down in a pool of water, but there was better to come from England's fly-half as he nailed the trickiest of conversions to seize a dramatic late victory.

“That shows a top-class player, to kick from the sideline with the game on the line. You don't coach that, it's locked in,” Matson said.

“He's got really high standards. His goals are to try and become a world-class player, but a player with his expectations will go through his performance and go ‘nah’.”

Exeter head back to Devon with a gutsy losing bonus point in the bank and director of rugby Rob Baxter could only admire the fight shown by his players.

“You look at it and you're really pleased with huge parts of it and then you come up a little bit short, which is always a little frustrating,” Baxter said. “Everyone knows that yellow and red cards have a huge effect on games and we weathered that pretty well.

“We're disappointed not to get more, but at the same time we've done a lot of good things. We did everything we could have to give ourselves a chance.”

Baxter revealed that England hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie missed the game because of illness.

Additional reporting by PA Media.

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