Premiership: Exeter 7-20 Bristol – Bears beat Chiefs to go top of table
|Exeter: (7) 7|
|Tries: Hill Cons: J Simmonds|
|Bristol: (7) 20|
|Tries: Randall, Radradra Cons: Sheedy 2 Pens: Sheedy 2|
An inspired Bristol beat rivals Exeter in a bruising encounter to go above the Chiefs at the top of the Premiership.
Harry Randall was mauled over as the visitors impressed early on before Jonny Hill went over from close range to level late in the first half.
Callum Sheedy’s penalty put Bristol ahead soon after the restart as the Bears outmuscled the champions.
Semi Radradra got the decisive score 10 minutes from time before a second Sheedy penalty late on.
Victory in the top-of-the-table meeting moved the Bears four points clear after a fifth successive league victory, while rare back-to-back losses for Exeter sees them drop to third after Newcastle’s win over Gloucester.
While last week’s defeat at Wasps saw the Chiefs rest a number of their star names, they could have few complaints on this occasion. Despite recording some positive Covid-19 tests this week, the hosts welcomed back Hill, Henry Slade, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Jonny Gray from rest periods after international duty.
The first half was dominated by the two sides’ defences – first Exeter did well to keep Bristol out as Sam Hidalgo-Clyne just got to Randall’s kick through the defence before Ben Earl could touch down, while at the other end Bristol prevented the Chiefs’ well-oiled attacking machine from clicking into gear when they made it into their 22.
Randall’s 13th-minute try came after a period of pressure on the Exeter line, while both sides were reduced to 14 men after half an hour when referee Karl Dickson sin-binned Chiefs’ tighthead Harry Williams and Bristol loosehead Jake Woolmore after repeated failed scrums.
The Bears could have had Ratu Naulago join Woolmore in the sin-bin when he deliberately knocked on an Exeter pass, but the Chiefs took advantage by seizing possession and the flowing passing move that followed set up their equalising try for Hill.
Sheedy’s penalty put Bristol ahead soon after the restart while Exeter had concerns over captain Joe Simmonds as the fly-half had his ankle strapped up following some lengthy on-field treatment having got tangled up under some Bristol forwards.
The Bears more than matched Exeter’s renowned physicality and after Sam Simmonds had stopped Randall going over with 15 minutes left, Radradra made no mistake as the big Fijian centre ended a multi-phase period under the Exeter posts as the Bears beat the Chiefs at their own game.
Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter told BBC Radio Devon:
“I don’t think we deserved to win.
“There were a couple of things that were turning moments in the game that had they gone our way would have turned a bit of momentum our way.
“But fair play to Bristol, they’ve come here, they’ve done the job on us.”
Bristol director of rugby Pat Lam told BBC Radio Bristol:
“I’m proud. You can’t come to this place and win against these guys unless you bring the right mindset, the right physicality levels and do it as a team and today was phenomenal.
“I know a lot of people think that the Bears way is just throwing the ball around, but this pitch is pretty heavy and we ground it out.
“We needed to be physical and we certainly dominated them right through the game.”
Exeter: Walsh; Woodburn, Slade, Devoto, Whitten; J Simmonds (capt), Hidalgo-Clyne; Hepburn, Cowan-Dickie, Williams, Witty, Hill, Skinner, Armand, S Simmonds
Replacements: Yeandle, Kenny, Francis, Price, Gray, Maunder, Baldwin, Short
Bristol: C Piutau; Morahan, Radradra, O’Connor, Naulago; Sheedy, Randall; Woolmore, Byrne, Sinckler, Attwood, Joyce, Luatua, Earl, Hughes.
Replacements: Capon, Y Thomas, Afoa, Dun, D Thomas, Uren, Lloyd, Leiua
Referee: Karl Dickson
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