Exeter beginning to rediscover form of old with win over below-par Bristol

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The fans in that East Stand were brought into the action early as Exeter attacked towards their side, wing Jack Nowell putting a kick through for Hogg to regather and put wing Tom O’Flaherty into the corner for those fans to enjoy.

These two sides were expected by many to fight it out for the Premiership title last season, only for them both to be ambushed by Harlequins and in the process apparently being knocked off their stride. It would have been a mere mid-table clash, but Bristol’s position near the bottom of the table means even that description would have been generous.

Exeter will hope to use this win as a springboard into the top four and the play-off picture, while Bristol’s woes this season continue – their lack of confidence summed up by the decision at the end to kick the ball out rather than attempt a match-winning try.

Exeter’s commitment to the salary cap was tested over Christmas with the news that second rows Jonny Hill and Sam Skinner are both off to pastures new next season.

Baxter picked both his internationals in the starting line-up and took solace of a job well done in terms of player development, but their performance would have brought mixed emotions as a result. Even more mixed when Hill barged his way over from short range for the second try, following a period of pressure when Exeter made their trademark decision to kick for the corner rather than at goal. Once again the new East Stand erupted to celebrate the action a few yards away.

Bristol had suffered a blow midway through the first half as star full back Charles Piutau limped off injured before he had been able to make an impression on the game.

That applied to most of his team-mates too in the first half and they would have been relieved to get to the break just 12-3 down after Exeter failed to apply the finishing touches on a few occasions.

A change of forward personnel shortly into the second half brought a change of fortune for the visitors, but crucially the Exeter forwards were able to defend their line and then win the ball to clear the pressure.

When Bristol did get back on the scoresheet it came from further out and thanks to slack Exeter play as replacement full back Harry Purdie snatched a Joe Simmons pass and went fifty yards unopposed for the try.

After Hogg had put Exeter back in control the visitors chose to take a Sheedy penalty to get the losing bonus point. Regaining confidence can be a long process, but maybe that point was a small part of the process.

Exeter’s loyal and increased band of fans could consolation in a powerful performance which promised more than it delivered and for the fact the cutting edge of Hogg will be in view at Sandy Park for a while longer.

Match details

Scoring sequence; 13 min O’Flaherty try 5-0, 14 min J Simmons con 7-0, 19 min Sheedy pen 7-3, 31 min Hill try 12-3, 70 min Purdie try 12-8, 71 min Sheedy con 12-10, 75 Hogg try 17-10, 74 J Simmons con 19-10, 79 Sheedy pen 19-13.

Exeter: S Hogg; J Nowell, H Slade, O Devoto, T O’Flaherty (I Whitten 40); J Simmonds, J Maunder (A Maunder 64); A Hepburn (B Moon 64), L Cowan-Dickie (capt, J Yeandle 60), S Nixon (J Iosefa-Scott 60), S Skinner (S Lonsdale 53), J Hill, D Ewers, J Kirsten (D Armand 73), S Simmonds. Replacements not used: H Skinner

Bristol: C Piutau (H Purdie 24); L Morahan, S Radrada, S Bedlow (P O’Connor 64), I Lloyd (J Woolmore 77); C Sheedy, H Randall (A Uren 66); Y Thomas H Thacker (W Capon 47), K Sinckler (J Afoa 47), J Joyce (capt), C Vui, F Harding, D Thomas (J Hawkins 66), N Hughes (M Eadie 47).

Referee: L Pearce (RFU).

Attendance: 14,100.

 

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