Monday 19 February 2018

Irish flyhalf Gareth Steenson reveals how his late father inspired him to kick Exeter Chiefs' title winning penalty

Exeter Chiefs' Gareth Steenson celebrates with the trophy after winning the Aviva Premiership Final at Twickenham
Exeter Chiefs' Gareth Steenson celebrates with the trophy after winning the Aviva Premiership Final at Twickenham

Jack de Menezes

Exeter Chiefs’ Premiership-winning hero, Gareth Steenson, revealed how his father inspired him to kick the penalty that clinched a thrilling 23-20 extra-time victory over Wasps to win a nail-biting final at Twickenham.

Steenson was one of three Exeter players in the matchday squad that helped the Chiefs secure promotion from the Championship seven years ago, with the fly-half joining prop Ben Moon and full-back Phil Dollman in riding the rollercoaster ride up through the English top flight.

Seven years and one a day since their promotion, Exeter went one better than last season’s final defeat, but they came within minutes of suffering defeat as Steenson’s 78th-minute penalty took the match to extra-time for just the second time in the competition’s history.

After 18 minutes of constant pressure from the Chiefs, the front-row won a penalty that gave Steenson the chance to step up and write his name into Premiership folklore. He duly did, with a little help from his late father, John, who died in 2007 – the year before he joined Exeter from Cornish Pirates.

"The kicks in the Championship final were pretty big as well,” reflected Steenson. “I said a prayer to my old man upstairs and he helped me with the last one.”

Not many players can boast tasting success in both the Premiership and Championship, least with the same club, and asked if the Chiefs could ever have dreamt of lifting the Premiership trophy seven years ago, the 33-year-old Dungannon native wasn’t sure what to think, especially after the dismal start to the season they endured.

Exeter lost four of their first seven matches – drawing another – and it took a sit-down between the players and staff to get the Chiefs moving in the right direction that has triggered a 16-match winning streak in the Premiership and, now, a title to boot.

“When we first got promoted, probably not,” Steenson said. “It was hard to gauge what it would be like to be in days like today. After the final last year, we had a taste for it. Thankfully before Christmas we sat down and said to ourselves we needed to get a grip if we wanted to get back to that level and we got ourselves together.

“There are a lot of people who’ve worked hard who have grafted to get into the Premiership. To see the amount of support we had today was unbelievable. The graft we’ve put in from the top down it’s for days like today.

"We had to go through the highs And Lows of the game. We always back ourselves as a fit team anyway. Just before half time was a bad time to let Wasps score and then after half time, you’re thinking it could be a tough day. We knew what our strengths were, so we knuckled down, our carrying game is good so we knew we could dent them. We stuck at them for the whole 80 and to score when we did at the end, probably mentally hurt them a little bit and we probably dominated them a little bit in extra time.

We were patting ourselves on the back in preseason at how well we did, and I think we rolled into the season. We did sit down after Clermont after a hiding at home and said this season is going to peter out for us if we don’t get ourselves together. We had a few harsh words and we grafted it out. We didn’t change anything drastically but we got ourselves into a good run of form.”

The Exeter head coach, Rob Baxter, was already thinking about next season and how the club can ensure this victory doesn’t become a flash in the pan. Baxter has won plenty of plaudits for the way he has built this team, and he will gain even more respect if he can take this side to another level beyond Premiership champions.

“We will enjoy today to the max but the truth is we need to put a group of players together in this close season who are going to turn around and say ‘I am going to do something about the fact that we are Premiership champions – I am going to do something about that to make sure it stays that way,” Baxter said.

“We have let ourselves down in Europe for the last couple of seasons now with our performances and it should be a marker for us we are not going to let it happen again.”

Independent News Service

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