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- Exeter Chiefs
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Exeter Chiefs 35
Mark Stevens at Ashton Gate
Exeter Chiefs set themselves up with a home semi-final in this season’s Anglo-Welsh Cup as they brushed aside Westcountry rivals Bristol at Ashton Gate.
Ricky Pellow’s side knew they needed a victory of sorts to advance into the latter stages, but they made sure of topping Pool 2 by running in five tries on the day.
In a dominant display from the Devonians, Shaun Malton, Henry Slade and Max Bodilly all bagged a try apiece, while two further penalty tries from close-range scrums helped to put the seal on things for the visitors, whose remaining points came courtesy of five conversions by Joe Simmonds.
Bristol grabbed a late consolation score through prop Jamal Ford-Robinson, which was converted by Callum Sheedy, but that was their only real bright spot on a tough day at the office.
Showing six changes from the side that thumped Wasps 52-5 the week previous, the re-jig in personnel did little to upset the Exeter rhythm as the visitors flew out of the traps to take the lead inside five minutes.
Strong work from Lachie Turner and Sam Skinner helped set the early tone, the fruits of which helped Pellow’s side set up camp deep inside the Bristol half. Having won an initial line-out in which Bristol infringed, the visitors kicked for the left corner and from it came their first rewards.
Captain Skinner took the line-out in the middle, his fellow forwards set up around him, before the obligatory shove came on. Initially Bristol did well to hold the Chiefs, but when they pushed for a second time, it was hooker Malton who was able to burrow over from close range. Simmonds added the conversion for a seven-point lead.
It was just the start the visitors had craved, but they were unable to build on their early dominance as a combination of stubborn defence from the hosts and some elementary mistakes saw chances come and go in quick succession.
At the other end, England international Henry Slade came to Exeter’s rescue when he happened to be in the right place to pick off a pass from home fly-half Callum Sheedy, who had at least three attackers outside of him on his right shoulder.
The Chiefs, though, continued to boss possession and territory and they thought they had doubled their lead just before the half hour mark when scrum-half Jack Maunder snuck over from close range following strong approach work from winger Turner.
Welsh referee Ian Davies was initially unsure whether to award the score, but following a quick consultation with assistant Darryl Chapman, between they adjudicated that the visitors had knocked on in the build up and the score was duly chalked off.
Undeterred, the Devonians continued to pile forward and when they looked to go quick again form another sharp move, some cynical play from home hooker Marc Jones saw him sent to the sin-bin and the Chiefs awarded a penalty.
They kicked that to the left corner and from the resultant line-out they again drove towards the line, only to be halted by more crude play from the hosts, this time from former Chiefs player, James Phillips.
Like Jones a moment earlier, he was sent packing to the cooler, gifting the Chiefs a two-man advantage for the remainder of the half. Not surprisingly, the visitors made the numbers game pay, collecting a penalty try from the resultant scrum that Joe Simmonds again converted.
With the half all but up, Bristol looked to fashion a response of their own, but when they were turned over right on the Exeter line, the Chiefs countered off turnover ball to release full-back Max Bodilly. The young Cornishman tore down field at a rate of knots, but sadly he didn’t have the legs to get clear of the final home defender.
HALF TIME BRISTOL 0 EXETER CHIEFS 14
With two tries already in the bag, the Chiefs were desperate to add to their tally on the resumption. Early raids had them positioned deep behind enemy lines, but just as they looked set to pounce, poor handling in midfield saw the chance spurned.
Still the Chiefs continued to push forward and they were denied once more, seven minutes into the half, when lock Damian Welch was this time adjudged to have been held up on the line following a slick handling move.
As had been the case in the first period, the Chiefs were dominating possession and territory, but they could not make it count in terms of further points. Too often they were guilty of trying to over complicate things in attack and it was hampering their cause.
That said, it was Bristol who handed their rivals a gift-wrapped third converted score on 55 minutes. Looking to attack off a driving line-out, Slade picked off a pass from scrum-half Andy Uren before racing over half the field to score under the posts.
Now just a try away from the all-important bonus point, the Chiefs looked to go for the Bristol jugular.
Advancing forward at a rate of knots, Bristol did well to repel the heavy Exeter swell. However, the pressure finally got too much and when Woodburn found himself in acres of space in midfield, he raced clear, drew the cover and offered a simple pop pass for Bodilly to cross by the posts. Simmonds again converted to make it four from four for him.
With a place in the last four assured, Pellow took the opportunity to run his entire bench – handing another outing for Under-18s scrum-half Joe Snow – but it was Bristol who got in on the scoring act, making the most of a yellow card for Exeter winger Woodburn to create the opening for Ford-Robinson to trot over from five metres out with eight minutes remaining.
The final word, however, went to the Chiefs who, with just a minute remaining, collected a second converted penalty try when they dismantled the home pack with another forceful scrum just five metres out.
Job done, the Chiefs happily saw out the remaining few seconds safe in the knowledge that they will now face Harlequins at home in the last four – where the reward is a potential third successive final appearance.
Bristol: L Arscott (S Piutau 19); J Williams (M Crumpton 34-43), J Tovey, B Mosses, C Amesbury (J Newey 62); C Sheedy, A Uren (M Roberts 66); J Ford-Robinson (T Rowland 74), M Jones (capt), J Hall (A Cleary 61); J Joyce (S Jefferies 22), I Evans; J Phillips, N Koster, J Crane (J Hawkins 61).
Try – Ford-Robinson; Conversion – Sheedy
Yellow Cards: Jones, Phillips
Chiefs: M Bodilly; O Woodburn, I Whitten (W Hooley 71), H Slade (M Jess 60), L Turner; J Simmonds, J Maunder (J Snow 66); C Rimmer (M Low 62), S Malton (J Innard 66), G Holmes (H Williams 47); S Skinner (capt), D Welch; B White (T Waldrom 60), J Salvi (O Atkins 53), S Simmonds.
Tries – Malton, Penalty Try (2), Slade, Bodilly; Conversions – J Simmonds (5)
Yellow Card: Woodburn
Referee: I Davies (WRU)