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Green Pastures: Steenson wants to deliver tomahawk chop to Warriors

The former Dungannon out-half on life with Exeter Chiefs and pushing Leinster close in their back garden.

Gareth Steenson battles with Niall O'Connor of Connacht (now Ulster).
Gareth Steenson battles with Niall O'Connor of Connacht (now Ulster).
Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

Club: Exeter Chiefs.  Player: Gareth Steenson.

IT WAS CLOSER than Leinster fans could have feared but Ignacio Meeres would not be the hero.

Having replaced starting out-half Gareth Steenson in the second-half, Mieres had a 49 metre penalty to record Exeter Chief’s debut victory over the reigning Heineken Cup champions.

He had the range but not the accuracy. For Mieres, and the man he replaced, it was almost the dream start.

Steenson lined up at 10 the following week for the visit of Clermont Auvergne to Sandy Park – another first – and scored four penalties in the opening minutes.

The Chiefs led 12-10 at the break before Wesley Fofana, with two tries, and his teammates doled out a European rugby lesson.

Life back in the Aviva Premiership did little to improve matters as they clawed back a 12-0 deficit against Bath only to lose 23-15.

“It has been a tough few weeks,” Steenson told TheScore.ie, “but we have been performing quite well. It’s important that we get back to winning ways against Worcester this weekend.”

Dungannon to the European top-table

Steenson played in the Under-21 World Cup in 2004 and showed promise with Dungannon for three All-Ireland League seasons, and fleetingly with Ulster, before opting for rugby life in England.

He explained, “When I was at Ulster, we had David Humphreys at out-half and then Paddy Wallace and Adam Larkin could also play out-half. I came through at, maybe, not the best time.

“Rotherham came calling then so I travelled over, then played with the Cornish Pirates before I got signed by Exeter. It has been a long ol’ journey from where I was to where I am now.” Steenson added:

Three years ago we were playing in the Championship and now were are playing Leinster, the champions, in their back garden one week and taking on Clermont, one of the best sides in Europe, at home the next.

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“Leinster showed a bit more composure than us and closed it out,” he said. “They played a power game but we matched it. Against Clermont, they showed how dangerous they can be when they get quality possession.”

Chopping the Warriors

Today’s league game against Worcester Warriors at Sandy Park is a crucial one in a year littered with crucial occasions.

The Chiefs got off to a fighting start to the season with wins over Sale, Saracens and Harlequins but their European adventures sapped them in their last outing and a defeat could see them drop into the bottom three.

“It was a tight affair against them at Sandy Park last season and we got a last-minute score to win in injury-time up there (at Sixways).

“We’re under no illusions about how hard it will be.”

The Chiefs fans have brought their trademark ‘tomahawk chop’ to the Heineken Cup this year but Steenson and Chiefs, after three gruelling weeks’ rugby, will be heartened to see it in action when they take the field at Sandy Park.

“It’s a tremendous feeling to run out to 10,000 people with them all doing the chop,” said Steenson. “It’s got to be an intimidating feeling.”

Elsewhere in the Premiership

Tomás O’Leary has been rested for the London Irish away trip to Sale Sharks, who should be featuring Cillian Willis and the internationally overlooked Tony Buckley.

Geordan Murphy will play at fullback for Leicester Tigers again while Niall Morris will be hoping to feature at some stage against a faltering Northampton Saints. Conor O’Shea’s Harlequins play Gloucester on Saturday and Shane Monahan will be hoping to make an impact.

Mark McCall’s Saracens play Wasps at Vicarage Road on Sunday while London Welsh play Bath but Ryan Caldwell remains on the comeback trail.

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Patrick McCarry

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