Exeter Chiefs back on top
A low-scoring, scrappy – albeit compelling – West Country derby saw Chiefs unable to finish off their rivals but they eventually did enough to extend their winning streak against Bristol to seven matches.
Santiago Cordero crossed on the stroke of half-time to put Exeter 7-3 ahead and although Ian Madigan’s second and third penalties briefly had the Bears in the ascendancy, Lonsdale’s close-range score on 66 minutes was ultimately enough to return the hosts to the summit.
After a low-key opening to proceedings, Madigan slotted Bristol into a 3-0 lead on 13 minutes when Chiefs were caught offside before the Bears demonstrated their defensive chops by surviving a sustained onslaught in their 22.
On the stroke of half-time, Exeter were once again encamped just short of the visitors’ line and, after more than 20 phases, they finally spread the ball wide.
Henry Slade’s miss pass to Cordero sent the Argentine over in the corner and Gareth Steenson’s successful conversion meant they headed into the intterval 7-3 ahead.
Madigan nailed a scrum penalty just after the restart to narrow the deficit to a point before a third three-pointer on 56 minutes edged the Bears in front.
But Exeter’s powerful pack did the damage 15 minutes from time when a relentless wave of pressure ended with Lonsdale burrowing over from close-range for his first try in the competition.
Joe Simmonds duly added the extras but sloppy handling in attack stopped Chiefs notching another score and finishing their West Country rivals off once and for all.
However, Bristol couldn’t manufacture a late score and the hard-fought victory means Exeter leapfrog Saracens to return to the summit of the Gallagher Premiership Rugby table.
For Exeter Chiefs:
Tries: Cordero, Lonsdale
Cons: Steenson, Simmonds
For Bristol Bears:
Pens: Madigan 3
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 Tom O’Flaherty, 10 Gareth Steenson (captain), 9 Jack Maunder, 8 Matt Kvesic, 7 Sean Lonsdale, 6 Sam Skinner, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Dave Dennis, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Mitch Lees, 20 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 21 Nic White, 22 Joe Simmonds, 23 Ollie Devoto.
Bristol Bears: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Will Hurrell, 12 Siale Piutau (co-captain), 11 Tom Pincus, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 Harry Randall, 8 Jordan Crane (co-captain), 7 Jack Lam, 6 Chris Vui, 5 Joe Joyce, 4 Ed Holmes, 3 Lewis Thiede, 2 Tom Lindsay, 1 Jake Woolmore.
Replacements: 16 Harry Thacker, 17 Yann Thomas, 18 John Afoa, 19 George Smith, 20 Dan Thomas, 21 Andy Uren, 22 Callum Sheedy, 23 Piers O’Conor.
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Assistant Referees: Adam Leal & Paul Dix.
TMO: Geoff Warren.
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