According to the 2019/20 Gallagher Premiership table, Tuesday’s meeting between Bristol Bears and Exeter Chiefs was an encounter between the two best teams in England. The Chiefs came out on top 25-22 at Ashton Gate, opening up an eleven-point lead in the league over their rivals and giving themselves a spring in their step should the two sides face each other in the playoffs.
Following their Premiership victory over Sale last Friday at the AJ Bell, it was a much-changes Exeter outfit, so much of the talk (and trolling) after the game online by Devonians – as well as fans across the country – was about how a second-string Chiefs XV could topple the side who were second to them in the table.
While it would be wrong to label Tuesday’s victors a second-team, there were undoubtedly star names missing; more than ten in truth.
Bristol themselves were shy of a few first-choice players, but certainly not as many as Rob Baxter’s side were.
I can’t see how Exeter won’t win the Prem this year. Playing great rugby and solid in defence.
As much as fans don’t want to admit it,the league will badly miss Saracens next year. Of course teams will improve, but Chiefs 2nd string beat a strong Bears team at home. #BRIvEXE
— Mana Rugby (@mana_rugby) August 25, 2020
Bristol played some wonderful stuff but Exeter were simply superb.
Considering everyone was drooling over the Bristol side and Exeter were essentially a 2nd string team. That's an incredible win.
— Benjamin Sutton (@BenSuttonJackal) August 25, 2020
Rugby Union .. Exeter’s 1st team the best in the league , Exeter’s 2nd team the 2nd best in the league !!
— Hugh (@shugiehughie) August 25, 2020
It was a close game where Bristol only woke up in the second half, but a lot of praise has been directed at the Chiefs who are now firm favourites to win the league this season and take the title from automatically regelated Saracens.
What Tuesday did perhaps highlight was that there is no such thing as a second-team at Exeter. Such is the depth that their standard doesn’t dip even with a raft of changes.
Bristol Bears social media team are the best when it comes to clever memes, but their full strength rugby team lost to a second string Exeter outfit last night which is pretty ominous for their aspirations to Premiership glory. https://t.co/Vo3kGJpKeG
— Bruce Lawson (@Sapere_vivere) August 26, 2020
— Nick Auger (@NickAuger88) August 25, 2020
Might bring a bit of perspective to Bristol bandwagon. Beaten at home by Exeter who had a load of second xv playing.
— Tom Coleman (@LeinsterRoyalty) August 25, 2020
Bristol, meanwhile, will continue to develop with a team that has seen an influx of new faces in recent weeks. Players will be rotated, though, as they already have, and the question remains as to whether they – or any other team in England – have the depth to rival the Chiefs.
Says a lot that a second string Exeter side beat an on form Bristol.
— Edd Owsley (@owsley32) August 25, 2020
Big win for Exeter. Bristol their biggest challengers for the title and to win away with a second string shows the squad depth. Bristol will be kicking themselves after their brilliant start to the second half #BRIvEXE #GallagherPrem
— Matt Cassidy (@Cass_maitias) August 25, 2020
Squad rotation is key in such a congested period and Olly Woodburn provided a vivid visualisation as to why that is true against Bristol. Having been the only Exeter player to start all three games in a ten-day period, the winger pulled up with a groin injury in the second half which allowed Ioan Lloyd to score.
Baxter will know that he will have to continue to rest his players, particularly given their ambitions in the Heineken Champions Cup in September, but he knows a strong performance will come from whatever players he fields.
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