Pat Lam has made seven changes to his Bristol team for Friday night’s top-table Gallager Premiership clash against an Exeter XV that will give fit-again Jack Nowell his first start since last October’s title win over Wasps at Twickenham. With the Bears currently twelve points clear of the title holders, boss Pat Lam has stuck by his habit of never picking the same 23 during his four-year Ashton Gate tenure and his shake-up this week begins with the return of skipper Steven Luatua returns to the starting line-up.

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Charles Piutau comes in at full-back and Sam Bedlow also returns to the backline. Max Malins, last weekend’s man of the match at Newcastle, switches to fly-half with Callum Sheedy unavailable. In the pack, Bryan Byrne and Kyle Sinckler are named in the front row, while Dave Attwood and Dan Thomas also earn starts.

Rob Baxter has also tinkered with his Exeter selection following their hammering of Wasps last weekend at Sandy Park. Ben Moon and Tomas Francis come into the front row in place of Alec Hepburn and Harry Williams, Jonny Gray is restored to the second row and with Dave Ewers sidelined with a calf injury, Sam Skinner drops into the back row.

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Behind the scrum, the sole change sees Nowell – who played his first game of the season last week when he came on as a second-half replacement – start on the right wing at the expense of Facundo Cordero. With Gray promoted from the bench, Richard Capstick comes into the match-day 23, as does Ian Whitten.

Bristol beat Exeter at Sandy Park in January and Baxter warned: “I’ll be honest, we are not playing at our best yet by any means. In fact, that best may still be a week or so away. However, we are getting more and more time together with the whole group of players and I can definitely see us on an upward curve, which is important at this time of year.

“It should be a good game, shouldn’t it. It’s first versus second, conditions are going to be good, the pitch is going to be good, and Bristol are a very good team playing very good rugby. That said, we have started to show form ourselves, so it has all the ingredients to be a great occasion.

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“It may seem a little less important for Bristol than us, just because they have that points lead, but they have earned that lead. We haven’t given ourselves any leeway at this stage, so we’ve got to keep winning if we want to keep teams away from us.” 

BRISTOL: 15. Charles Piutau; 14. Niyi Adeolokun, 13. Piers O’Conor, 12. Sam Bedlow, 11. Luke Morahan; 10. Max Malins, 9. Andy Uren; 1. Yann Thomas, 2. Bryan Byrne, 3. Kyle Sinckler, 4. Dave Attwood, 5. Chris Vui, 6. Steven Luatua (capt), 7. Dan Thomas, 8. Jake Heenan. Reps: 16. Will Capon, 17. Jake Woolmore, 18. John Afoa, 19. Joe Joyce, 20. Fitz Harding, 21. Tom Kessell, 22. Ioan Lloyd, 23. Alapati Leiua.

EXETER: 15. Stuart Hogg; 14. Jack Nowell, 13. Henry Slade, 12. Ollie Devoto, 11. Tom O’Flaherty; 10. Joe Simmonds (capt), 9. Jack Maunder; 1. Ben Moon, 2. Luke Cowan-Dickie, 3. Tomas Francis, 4. Jonny Gray, 5. Jonny Hill, 6. Sam Skinner, 7. Jacques Vermeulen, 8. Sam Simmonds. Reps: 16. Jack Yeandle, 17. Alec Hepburn, 18. Harry Williams, 19. Sean Lonsdale, 20. Richard Capstick, 21. Stu Townsend, 22. Harvey Skinner, 23. Ian Whitten.

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