Exeter Chiefs welcomed back their World Cup stars to for the match against Bristol Bears at Sandy Park. In a week that has been dominated by the Salary Cap scandal, it was time for rugby to take back centre stage.
Chiefs named Henry Slade in the starting line-up with Luke Cowan-Dickie and Jack Nowell taking spots on the bench. Bristol made a handful of changes to their starting side. Harry Randall, Piers O’Conor and Will Hurrell all came into the starting side.
Chiefs Race to an Early Lead
The game began slowly with both sides tussling for possession and territory. Chiefs were uncharacteristically sloppy in the opening exchanges but eventually gained control. Slade went close after a lovely half-break but Sam Simmonds was quickly on hand to follow up and dive over the line.
One try was quickly followed by another as White darted over from short range following some beautiful interplay from Hogg and Slade in the wide channels.
Rob Baxter was quick to praise the work of those two when he said that “Hoggy was playing exceptionally well in the first half” and that “Sladey was looking sharp”.
Hughes Yellow Card Reprive a Turning point?
On the 32 minutes Exeter Chiefs looked to have another try but were denied by the hand of Bristol Bears no 8 Nathan Hughes. He appeared to slap the ball down but the event went unpunished. Exeter only left with three points as a result. This left the score 17-0 at half time.
Bristol coach Pat Lam, however, did not see the event as a key turning point in the game. Instead, he focused on the eighty-minutes as a whole.
Bristol Hit Back After Half-Time
Bristol Bears came out of the blocks faster in the second half. They were able to maintain possession and build momentum at the expense of Exeter Chiefs. The boot of Sheedy was able to build Bristol back into the game as they started to play in the right areas of the field.
Nic White was then controversially awarded a yellow card for a deliberate knock on in the 63rd minute. The Chiefs could feel hard done by after Hughes escaped punishment for a similar incident in the first half.
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Rob Baxter felt his side were hard done by and described the decision as “a tough yellow card”. Although he blamed his own side for having “a little bit of a mental meltdown” in the Second half.
The Bears took full advantage of their man advantage. Luke Morahan exploited the extra space on the right hand side to link up with Piers O’Conor.
Final Second Fireworks
This set-up a nervy final quarter for the home side. However, for much of the period Bristol was unable to gain any meaningful possession or territory. Two crucial penalties in the dying seconds allowed Bristol to gain field position and go for the try.
Incredible drama at Sandy Park! 😱
With time in the red, an almighty HEAVE from @BristolBears gets them over the line to win it!
Pat Lam's men are top of the league! What a comeback from 17-0 down! 🙌 pic.twitter.com/Iyh0Ml10XR
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) November 10, 2019
The Bears opted for the drive at the line out and after a TMO referral, referee Karl Dickson awarded the try. Although there was no clear evidence of the ball being grounded.
Heartbreak for Chiefs
Pat Lam described this win as “huge in our growth”. Winning away at Exeter is no mean feat and Lam was justifiably proud of his side.
“This one in particular is a big one”
Lam stressed to his team at half-time the need to “stay in systems and stay in the calls”. Bristol needed to build their way back into the game step by step and they did just that.
Rob Baxter cut a disappointed figure post-match. He noted that it “feels tough to lose at home” and that they “probably could have got more out of the first half”.
Looking Forward to Europe
The decision to bring the likes of Slade, Nowell and Cowan-Dickie straight back in was a big call. However Baxter felt “it was important we saw where they were” and that “it would be a non-decision not to pick them”.
Exeter face La Rochelle next week in the first round of the Champions Cup. They will need to bounce back quickly if they are to make a run at the competition.
“Main Photo Credits”
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