Exeter ace sent off for dumping Joe Marler head-first in Premiership showdown

Harlequins and Exeter Chiefs produced another nail-biting encounter on Saturday as the defending Premiership champions underlined their title ambitions with a 14-12 triumph at The Stoop.

Last year's finalists pulled few punches in an agonisingly close contest, but tempers boiled over in the closing seconds of the first half following an illegal ruck clear-out just as the Chiefs were threatening.

Exeter prop Alec Hepburn and No. 8 Sam Simmonds appeared to team up in tipping Harlequins No. 1 Joe Marler away from the breakdown, but it was the former's violent motion that courted most attention.

That was after Hepburn appeared to lift and drive Marler into the ground, with the England regular appearing to land directly on his head in the kind of impact that can lead to very serious injury:

Referee Ian Tempest consulted his television match official for a closer look at the incident, although fans and commentators alike will have been well aware the red card was incoming.

BT Sport commentator Ugo Monye was the first to react after witnessing Hepburn's hit in real time, later referencing an infamously illegal tackle during the 2005 British and Irish Lions tour.

"Mate, that is a red card," exclaimed Monye, in no doubt as to whether Hepburn should remain on the pitch.

It was during that 2005 Lions series in New Zealand that Tana Umaga and Kevin Mealamu's joint-tip tackle on Brian O'Driscoll ended the Irishman's tour in excruciating fashion.

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Unlike the pair of All Blacks greats, however, Hepburn did not escape scrutiny at The Stoop and was rightly given his marching orders just before half-time.

While England bruiser Simmonds undoubtedly had a big hand in the incident, he escaped punishment by virtue of the fact he maintained contact with Marler and appeared to be attempting a genuine clear-out.

That being said, Premiership fans will be on tenterhooks to see whether Simmonds escapes a citation when commissioners review the incident, with a significant suspension looking inevitable for team-mate Hepburn.

Marler, 31, laid still for a moment before getting to his feet, although there will surely have been some concern among the coaching staff that their star could have been in trouble.

Australia-born Hepburn, 28, shared a short embrace with his opposite number after being sent off, with the pair having had a few niggly encounters in the build-up to the red card.

Quins ultimately went on to claim a narrow win over the 14-man chiefs as Marcus Smith stepped up to convert an Andre Esterhuizen try, converting the score off the inside of the posts in the final minutes.

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