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Exeter subject Bristol to fourth successive Prem defeat in front of record crowd

By PA
Jack Yeandle and Stuart Hogg (Photo by Simon Galloway/PA Images via Getty Images)

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Bristol suffered a fourth successive Gallagher Premiership defeat as Exeter toppled them 19-13 in front of a record Sandy Park crowd.

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Chiefs’ new East Stand development allowed an attendance of 14,100 for the West Country derby, and Exeter kept themselves firmly in play-off contention through a workmanlike success.

First-half tries by wing Tom O’Flaherty and lock Jonny Hill, with fly-half Joe Simmonds adding one conversion, put them in control of the contest.

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But a dour second period of few scoring chances burst into life during the closing minutes when Bristol substitute Henry Purdy claimed a breakaway try that Callum Sheedy converted, adding to his earlier penalty.

Exeter’s lead was suddenly threatened, but they dug deep and confirmed a seventh win of their Premiership campaign when Scotland captain Stuart Hogg scored late on, and Simmonds added the extras.

There was no way back for Bristol, and they remain in the Premiership’s bottom two having won just three of their first 11 league games, although Sheedy’s 80th-minute penalty at least gave them a losing bonus point.

Exeter centre Ollie Devoto made his first appearance for almost two months after recovering from injury, while Sam Skinner moved into the second row and Jannes Kirsten started at openside flanker.

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Bristol captain Steven Luatua missed out because of a calf muscle injury, so lock Joe Joyce skippered the side, with Dan Thomas and Nathan Hughes gaining back-row starts.

The early exchanges saw both sides working hard for consistent territory and possession, before Exeter opened the scoring with a superbly-worked try after 13 minutes.

England international wing Jack Nowell played the key role, kicking cleverly into space before full-back Hogg gathered an inviting bounce and sent an unmarked O’Flaherty over.

Simmonds converted from the touchline and Bristol were rattled, which Sheedy underlined just three minutes later by sending a 30-metre penalty chance wide.

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Sheedy then made amends for his miss by finding the target from just inside Exeter’s half, cutting the deficit to four points, but Bristol then suffered an injury blow when full-back Charles Piutau went off and was replaced by Purdy.

Exeter’s forwards displayed a healthy appetite, and their impressive efforts from an attacking line-out left the Bristol defensive structure disorganised.

After patiently building through the phases, a second Chiefs try arrived, with Hill breaking two tackles to touch down and open up a nine-point advantage.

Bristol failed to mount a meaningful attack during the first half, and Exeter’s only minor concern heading into the break was that they were not further in front.

Bristol boss Pat Lam made three changes early in the second period, including replacing England prop Kyle Sinckler with John Afoa, and the visitors enjoyed a sustained spell of pressure.

Exeter were in retreat mode for the first time, yet their defence held firm and scrum-half Jack Maunder’s lengthy clearance thwarted Bristol.

A scoreless third quarter meant that Bristol were still in the contest, and they threatened through centre Semi Radradra when he broke clear from his own line, but he spilled possession approaching halfway.

However, Bristol struck with 11 minutes left, claiming an opportunist score when Purdy intercepted Simmonds’ pass and sprinted 50 metres to score.

Sheedy’s conversion set up a tense finale, and it was Exeter who came up trumps, establishing field position from which they pounced for a decisive try.

Centre Henry Slade went close, before possession was quickly recycled and Hogg went over for Chiefs’ third try, with Simmonds’ conversion ensuring that there was no way back for Bristol.

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