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Bordeaux Begles 12
Exeter Chiefs 20
Mark Stevens at the Stade Chaban Delmas.
Exeter Chiefs added another piece of history into their short European history by claiming a first-ever win on French soil in the Champions Cup.
Sure, Rob Baxter’s side have triumphed on the other side of the Channel in Bourgoin and La Rochelle, but both those success stories came in Europe’s second tier competition.
In the wine-making region of Bordeaux, Baxter was able to toast a famous day for his team as they saw off their French rivals courtesy of tries from Thomas Waldrom and Luke Cowan-Dickie, plus ten points from the boot of fly-half Henry Slade.
With their European aspirations all but over following three successive defeats, the Chiefs arrived in France not only looking to restore some pride, but also avenge last weekend’s 13-7 home defeat by the same opposition.
Head coach Baxter took the opportunity to again rotate his squad, recalling Cowan-Dickie and Phil Dollman after injury, while a number of others were also handed their chance to impress ahead of an important Premiership block coming up.
Bordeaux, meanwhile, were looking to press on in the Champions Cup. Their win in Devon, coupled with a home win over Ulster earlier in the competition, had put them in good stead to attack group leaders ASM Clermont Auvergne.
Buoyed by a vocal home support, the Top 14 hosts held the edge in the opening exchanges and almost broke the deadlock on five minutes when fly-half Lionel Beauxis – in for Irishman Ian Madigan – saw an early drop-goal chance float just wide of the right post.
At the other end, the Chiefs came within a whisker of scoring themselves, as Will Chudley and Sam Hill combined through the middle, and although the centre was thwarted short of the line, Slade and Joe Edwards both looked to pounce on the loose ball.
Referee John Lacey was unsure whether it was a touchdown or not, but subsequent viewings via the TV match official saw the effort chalked off, much to the delight of the thousands packed inside the Stade Chaban Delmas.
With both sides looking to wrestle the initiative upfront, two snipes from the lively Julien Audy got the home side on the front foot before the ball was fed wide to the right to full-back Geoffrey Cros, who knocked on just inches from the line.
Bordeaux’s wait for points, though, was not long in coming as French international Beauxis slotted a 25th minute penalty after Chiefs lock Mitch Lees had been penalised for not rolling away.
Four minutes later and Beauxis was repeating the feat, again punishing another indiscretion from Lees, who this time saw yellow for slowing down the ball as Bordeaux looked to press hard in attack.
Although down a man, the Chiefs rallied well and with half time approaching, they stole the lead with the game’s opening try. Slade initiated the opening with some clever footwork, before he fed skipper Kai Horstmann who, although stopped within sight of the whitewash, had support at hand as back-row colleague Waldrom burrowed over from close range.
England international Slade obliged with the additional extras to put the Chiefs just in front at the break.
HALF TIME BORDEAUX BEGLES 6 EXETER CHIEFS 7
The second half was little more than five minutes old when Bordeaux regained their lead, Beauxis slotting a third penalty after Exeter prop Harry Williams was pulled up for tackling fellow tight-head Marc Clerc without the ball.
Lifted by the kick, Bordeaux continued to press forward as Cros broke from his own 22 to that of Exeter’s with a lightning turn of speed. Thankfully, Olly Woodburn was back to cover the danger on this occasion.
A minute later and Woodburn was again in the thick of things, this time as he chased a Chudley box-kick out of defence. However, as the Exeter winger looked to claim the ball ahead of Nans Ducuing, he was crudely taken out in the air, landing on his neck.
Thankfully, no damage was caused to the former Bath flyer, but referee Lacey had no hesitation in red carding the Bordeaux player, much to the fury of the home supporters who had further reason to kick off when the Irishman awarded a scrum penalty against the hosts deep inside their own 22.
It allowed Slade the opportunity to kick the Chiefs back in front with a simple kick.
Although the visitors had the man advantage, it did not last long as Lacey was again going to his pocket, this time to yellow card Aussie prop Greg Holmes for a dangerous tackle.
Exeter did well to repel the subsequent raid, but in the forward skirmishes that followed, the touch judge saw Greg Holmes perform an illegal tackle and the Aussie international was sent to the cooler for a ten-minute stint.
Bordeaux, sensing that had a potential edge up front, went for the corner in pursuit of higher reward. The Chiefs again dug deep initially, but when the hosts came back inside, Michele Campagnaro strayed offside in front of his own posts and replacement Baptiste Serin was on hand to punish him with a routine penalty.
Now having to chase the lead once again, Baxter’s brave warriors dug deep into their reserves – and having positioned themselves inside enemy territory, the pack took charge, driving forward through a succession of pick-and-go moves to send Cowan-Dickie over for the try.
Slade converted the all-important score, before adding a penalty late on to ensure not only victory, but also denying the Frenchmen of a losing bonus point.
For the Chiefs, Europe will now take a backseat until next month when they entertain Ulster and travel to Clermont, but having restored some pride with this latest victory, it’s the Premiership which will take priority for the coming weeks ahead.
Bordeaux Begles: G Cros (J-M Buttin 70); N Ducuing, R Lonca, J Vakacegu, J_B Duble; L Beauxis (B Serin 62), J Audy (G Doubrere 50); S Taofifenua (X Civil 63), O Avei (B Auzqui 63), M Clerc (J-B Poux 55); T Palmer, B Botha (C Cazeaux 62); L Goujon, J Edwards (L Madaule 33), M Tauleigne.
Penalties – Beauxis (3), Serin
Red Card: Ducuing
Exeter Chiefs: P Dollman; J Nowell, I Whitten, S Hill (M Campagnaro 61), O Woodburn; H Slade, W Chudley (J Maunder 55); C Rimmer (M Low 55), L Cowan-Dickie (S Malton 74), H Williams (G Holmes 50); M Lees, O Atkins (D Dennis 59); D Ewers (D Armand 30), K Horstmann (capt), T Waldrom (H Williams 71-74). Replacement (not used): J Simmonds.
Tries – Waldrom, Cowan-Dickie; Conversions – Slade (2); Penalties – Slade (2)
Yellow Cards: Lees, Holmes
Referee: J Lacey (IRU)