Exeter boss Rob Baxter hailed “a fantastic performance” by British and Irish Lions hopeful Sam Simmonds in Chiefs’ 20-12 victory over Gallagher Premiership leaders Bristol.
Chiefs number eight Simmonds made a towering case for Lions selection in front of Warren Gatland at Ashton Gate.
And Baxter said: “It was a fantastic performance from Sam. He had an absolute stormer.
“He looked so strong and so quick. It looks like he is going to take some handling as the weather dries up and pitches dry up. He is going to run with some abandon, I hope.”
Simmonds, overlooked by England boss Eddie Jones since 2018, drove second-placed Exeter home and helped end Bristol’s eight-match unbeaten Premiership run.
He suffered an early knock to his ankle but played for an hour in his final Lions audition before boss Gatland names the squad for South Africa on May 6, and it will be difficult to leave out the 26-year-old on this latest evidence.
Baxter added: “It is exactly what you have got to do. Games are running out before (Lions) selection happens, and you have got to maximise your opportunities.
“I thought most of our guys who are in with a shout for the Lions did all the good that they could do tonight.
“In terms of Sam’s ankle, it looks like he has just rolled it. He had a little bit of a sore ankle a couple of weeks ago, and it looks like he has re-rolled it. Hopefully, it is no more than that.”
By the time Simmonds went off, hobbling slightly, he had created Exeter’s second try for wing Tom O’Flaherty and did not put a foot wrong in attack or defence.
The Chiefs also claimed a Sam Skinner touchdown and Jacques Vermeulen try, with captain Joe Simmonds kicking a conversion and penalty.
Simmonds’ fellow England internationals Jack Nowell, Henry Slade and Luke Cowan-Dickie were not far behind him for work-rate as Exeter inflicted just a third league defeat of the season on Bristol.
“It was a good night for us,” Baxter said. “It was all about the league points. Bragging rights aren’t that important, it’s about league points.
“The only thing I am looking for at the moment is seeing a team that wants to fight for its title, and if I see that then I will be pleased.”
The home side conjured a fine Andy Uren try, but they had to wait until the 78th minute before breaching Exeter’s defence again when wing Luke Morahan crossed and Ioan Lloyd converted as Bristol saw their advantage at the top cut to eight points.
Bristol rugby director Pat Lam said: “It was a good game, but unfortunately we didn’t fire enough shots.
“They are a big team and we knew what was coming, and eventually it took its toll because we spent too much time on defence.
“They are a quality side. They are defending Premiership champions and European champions and they were at full strength tonight.
“They brought exactly what we thought and at times we handled it well, but it is difficult when we don’t get our stuff right.”
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