Tom Howe’s hat-trick of tries was not quite enough to give Warriors victory but they gave Exeter an almighty fright in a ferocious Premiership Rugby Cup match under the new Sixways floodlights.
Howe crossed twice in the first half, the first from a driving maul, the second from a superb sweeping attack and completed his hat-trick when he followed up his own chip-and-chase seven minutes into the second half.
Despite an outstanding defensive effort from Warriors Exeter denied them the consolation of a losing bonus point by scoring three close range converted tries in the final 16 minutes.
The final scoreline flattered Exeter somewhat and did not reflect how well Warriors performed in defence for long periods of the match.
Time and again they forced Exeter into handling errors with the ferocity of their tackling with Cornell du Preez and Andrew Kitchener both getting through a heavy workload.
With a patched-up front row against a three-quarter strength Exeter side it looked like Warriors might be in for a long and unrewarding night.
But Warriors made an early statement of intent by unsettling Exeter at the breakdown and winning a series of penalties which they kicked to touch with Graham Kitchener winning the lineouts.
A driving maul from a lineout led to the opening try with Howe attaching himself to it and emerging from a heap of bodies with the ball and a beaming smile.
Warriors suffered an early setback when Ryan Bower took a blow to the head and failed a head injury assessment which meant that Kai Owen was on for his home debut after just ten minutes and a baptism of fire against Exeter’s England tighthead Harry Williams.
Exeter responded with a long period pressure which produced a try for wing Olly Woodburn who sliced through on a strong diagonal run from a cheeky move from the front of a lineout.
Joe Simmonds added the conversion and Warriors’ task of frustrating last season’s Gallagher Premiership runners-up was made more difficult when Andrew Kitchener was sin-binned for an offence in a ruck.
But superb defence denied Exeter a score while Warriors were down to 14 men and a brilliant sweeping attack meant they scored themselves.
Exeter coughed up possession close to Warriors’ line and Michael Heaney lifted the siege with a long downfield kick. Exeter scrambled back and hoofed upfield but only as far as Jamie Shillcock.
The full-back launched a stunning counter-attack which spread-eagled Exeter’s defence and Howe, anticipating superbly, applied a brilliant finish which left Jono Lance with a conversion from under the posts.
Exeter battered away at Warriors’ line in the dying minutes of the half but ferocious tackling forced repeated knock-ons.
Simmonds reduced the gap early with a penalty early in the second half but Warriors looked the more likely winners when Howe was given space on the right before he chipped over the advancing defence and collected to score with Lance adding the conversion. The hat-trick try took Howe’s career tally to 20 in 29 appearances for Warriors in all competitions.
Warriors emptied their bench which meant a debut for former Oxford University tighthead Joe Morris but the sin-binning of Caleb Montgomery meant Warriors went down to 14 men again and Exeter eventually managed to muscle their way to victory with Jacques Vermeulen, Sean Lonsdale and Matt Kvesic being shunted over.
Warriors | 15 Jamie Shillcock (David 62), 14 Tom Howe, 13 Alex Hearle (van Breda 49), 12 Ashley Beck, 11 Dean Hammond, 10 Jono Lance (C), 9 Michael Heaney (Simpson 75), 1 Ryan Bower (Owen 10), 2 Isaac Miller (Cutting 42), 3 Conor Carey (Morris 59), 4 Andrew Kitchener, 5 Graham Kitchener (Clegg 59), 6 Caleb Montgomery, 7 Sam Lewis (Williams 56), 8 Cornell du Preez.
Replacements | 16 Beck Cutting, 17 Kai Owen, 18 Joe Morris, 19 Justin Clegg, 20 Matti Williams, 21 Gareth Simpson, 22 Scott van Breda, 23 Nick David.
4m | Howe try 5-0
17m | Woodburn try 5-5
18m | Simmonds con 5-7
28m | Howe try 10-7
29m | Lance con 12-7
45m | Simmonds pen 12-10
47m | Howe try 17-10
48m | Lance con 19-10
48m | Simmonds pen 19-13
64m | Vermeulen try 19-18
65m | Simmonds con 19-20
77m | Lonsdale try 19-25
78m | Simmonds con 19-27
80m | Kvesic try 19-32
80m | Simmonds con 19-34