Joe Marler settles matters on the pitch after shocking red card clear-out
The England prop turned the other cheek, after bring turned upside down.
Harlequins and Exeter were always going to tear into each other from the off, but the double clear-out on prop Joe Marler was over-stepping the mark, and then some.
Quins and Exeter went into their Premiership clash knowing that it was not quite winner takes all, but winner gets to stay in Leicester Tigers slip-stream. Steve Borthwick's side have won 11 straight league games and the pressure on the chasing pack is huge.
Having played a couple of classics against each other in recent years, fans were highly anticipating the afternoon clash. The hosts took an early lead through Luke Northmore, but when Joe Simmonds converted Henry Slade's 34th minute try, it was all square at 7-7.
The big talking point of the half arrived in the final stages as Marler dipped in to make a poach attempt after Jonny Hill had been tackled. Sam Simmonds went in from the side to lift Marler out of it and Alec Hepburn, with not enough consideration for the comprised prop, helped out.
Marler was already beyond the horizontal and, with his legs in the air, Hepburn dumped him to one side. There was not have been serious intent to harm Marler, but it was extremely reckless.
"Mate, that is a red card," declared Ugo Monye, on BT. "That is 2005 Lions Tour [the clear-out on Brian O'Driscoll], isn't it?"
It doesn't look pretty in real time, nor in slow-motion.
Exeter Chiefs prop Alec Hepburn is sent off for this reckless clear out on Joe Marler.#GallagherPrem pic.twitter.com/W3oG3nfNnm
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) January 8, 2022
Joe Marler settles matters on the pitch
It was obvious from the moment the first replay was shown that a red card would be shown. The only question was, which Exeter Chiefs forward was getting it.
In the end, Sam Simmonds was just looking to lift and clear Joe Marler out. It was Hepburn that arrived in and showed little care for his opponent. "A clear lift and a throw. No regard for No.1's safety, who just lands on his head," said the referee as replays rolled.
With the red card shown, Hepburn started jogging off, only to get summoned by Marler:
Hepburn may have been expecting to cop an earful, but Marler approached him and shook hands. No hard feelings.
"When you have an 18-, 19-stone land on the top of his head," reflected Monye, "it can only ever be red."
Quins, who started the day off in third place, struggled to make the man advantage count, though. Exeter dug in and showed great spirit, as they went 12-7 ahead with 15 minutes to play, after a Jack Innard try.
Right at the death, though, Andre Esterhuizen got over for Quins and Marcus Smith got the match-winning conversion over, via a thunk off the posts.