Exeter Chiefs 38-40 Harlequins: Late Louis Lynagh double sees Quins secure stunning Premiership title triumph
Harlequins secure their first Premiership title since the 2011/12 season; having led 7-0, Quins fell 14-7 behind, before recovering to establish a 26-14 lead early in the second half; Exeter responded to regain a 31-26 lead, but two late Louis Lynagh tries saw Quins win brilliantly
By Michael Cantillon at Twickenham
Last Updated: 26/06/21 9:41pm
Two late Louis Lynagh tries saw Harlequins secure their first Premiership title for nine years courtesy of a stunning 40-38 win over defending champions Exeter Chiefs at a sun-kissed Twickenham.
Played out in a fervent atmosphere of 10,000 supporters, a penalty try and further efforts from Wilco Louw, Alex Dombrandt and Andre Esterhuizen had put Quins 12 points ahead early into the second half, but Exeter roared back to lead 31-26.
That was until Lynagh skipped out of the tackle of Tom O'Flaherty to sprint over with eight minutes left, and Marcus Smith flawlessly converted from out wide for the lead. Lynagh then repeated the trick with four minutes remaining to confirm an incredible result for Quins, despite a late Stuart Hogg effort for the Chiefs.
Exeter scored tries through Jonny Gray, Alec Hepburn, Sam Simmonds and Ollie Devoto, while skipper Joe Simmonds landed a penalty too, but on the occasion of their sixth Premiership final in a row, they lost for a fourth time at this stage.
Harlequins, who were making their first final appearance since they last won the Premiership in 2012, finished fourth in the 2020/21 league standings - 11 points behind Exeter - and fell 28-0 behind in last week's semi-final against Bristol before winning 43-36.
Their success in one of the greatest Premiership finals of all time, without a permanent head coach too, caps a remarkable season and story.
Quins turned down the chance to hit the front off the kicking tee as early as the fifth minute, after Exeter lock Jonny Hill was caught offside in the middle of the pitch, 40 metres from his own line. Instead, Smith produced a fabulous kick from hand to the corner, handing Quins a superb lineout opportunity.
As it turned out, the pack took full advantage of their young No 10's wonderful kick to touch, as a powerful driving maul was illegally halted by Hill and brought about a penalty try. Exeter's Hill - who will tour with the Lions after this final - compounded his woeful start to the contest by picking up a yellow card for the act.
The Chiefs showed composure to build a promising attack straight off the restart with a man less, as wing Alex Cuthbert eventually made a half-break down the right, but the move was ended when Quins centre Esterhuizen forced a priceless breakdown penalty within his own 22.
When Hill returned to the fray from his sin-binning, Exeter had failed to make their pressure count on the scoreboard, but, crucially, Quins had failed even to enter the Chiefs 22 against 14 men.
Four Quins penalties in succession - ranging from a high tackle, maul and lineout infringements and offside - saw Exeter march down the pitch and firmly plant themselves within the opposition 22, where Joe Simmonds rejected the chance for a shot at goal in favour of a Luke Cowan-Dickie quick-tap.
A further Quins penalty for offside saw the Chiefs repeat the trick, and this time the reigning champions would not be denied as second-row Gray crashed over.
Approaching the half-hour mark, Lynagh made an error from which Exeter would then gain the lead as he carried a bouncing ball into touch within his 22 under no pressure, and, though Harlequins repelled the first attack due to the concession of two penalties (maul collapse, offside), Hepburn would score via a further close-range carry.
Despite the try being awarded after a TMO review, Quins also lost playmaker Smith to the sin-bin for repeated team infringements at the same moment.
Like Exeter, Quins responded positively to going a man down, and forced several Chiefs penalties under huge defensive pressure. They then called a five-metre scrum to attack off, and with two minutes left of the first half tighthead Louw levelled the contest by dipping, twisting and barging over.
Centre Joe Marchant missed the subsequent conversion with Smith still off the pitch, leaving Chiefs a slim two-point advantage at 14-12. In the final play of the half, Quins struck again, though, as No 8 Dombrandt sprinted over after taking a Smith inside pass, and after two dominant scrum penalties had laid a magnificent platform.
Smith's conversion left the score 19-14 to Harlequins at the break, and an absolutely blistering start to the second half saw Esterhuizen finish a magnificent team move to score Quins' fourth try of the final.
A scintillating attack saw Quins' backs combine down the left as Cadan Murley sprinted forward having been released by Smith, before offloading to Esterhuizen, who then found Marchant with another offload. The England centre did brilliantly to earn extra metres going forward in contact, before Danny Care played the ball quickly for the Springbok centre to score in the corner.
Smith converted off the touchline brilliantly for a 26-14 Quins lead, but the Exeter riposte was sharp and expeditious as a scrum penalty put them in the right area, and, following a lineout drive, No 8 Sam Simmonds bounced off contact to score by the posts.
Joe Simmonds' conversion put Exeter within five points, and barely five minutes later centre Devoto ran in untouched after hooker Cowan-Dickie had combined with out-half Simmonds to create the line-break. When Simmonds converted, Chiefs had turned a 12-point deficit into a two-point lead within 10 minutes.
Into the final quarter of the game, Exeter stretched their lead to five points via a straightforward Simmonds penalty by the Quins posts.
A huge defensive breakdown steal by flanker James Chisholm kept Quins in the hunt, and, just when an attacking move seemed to fizzle out, Lynagh broke through to change the entire complexion of the closing stages.
Having edged in front, Quins then dominated the ball for the next few minutes before Lynagh was released to score again in the same corner, and, though Hogg scored directly from the restart to put Exeter within two points, Quins' jubilation would not be denied.